Bangsamoro And The US Asia Pivot

Last month, I’ve discussed in this blog about the politics of the Mamasapano Crisis. A month has passed, yet the Bangsamoro Basic Law remains under hostage by Senate hearings and media circuses. Indeed, since the Mamasapano Crisis – we have heard countless rhetoric ranging from the sane to the absurd. All out war this, Islamic terrorists that. Malaysian interest this, ISIS connection that. And so the circus goes on and on.

Yet, not a lot of people are familiar with Bangsamoro’s geopolitical implications under the United States (US) Asia Pivot. But considering the opinions of the issue as of lately, it seems not a lot of people are familiar with geopolitics in general. Indeed, Senate hearings can be entertaining, but such focus leaves aside more important matters that should be discussed with regards to Bangsamoro. This includes the US connection.

Irrelevant as a lot of people say, but there’s a reason why the US has always been interested with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and their role in the establishment of a Bangsamoro political entity. The leaked US diplomatic cables is proof of this.

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Proposed Core Territory of the Bangsamoro (courtesy of OPAPP).

As seen from the photo above, Bangsamoro encapsulates the former territory of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), along also with other local government units that voted to be included in the ARMM during the 2011 plebiscite. The Bangsamoro Basic Law also allows other contiguous local government units to be part of the political entity through a local plebiscite. This means that once Bangsamoro is established, there is a certain possibility that its territory would expand especially in areas with a Muslim majority.

In the assumption of Bangsamoro expansion through plebiscites, I doubt that this would encompass all of Mindanao. Contrary to unfounded views, this will most likely be limited to the eastern portion of Mindanao except most of the Zamboanga Peninsula, Misamis Occidental, Saranggani, and much of South Cotabato where there remains to be a sizeable non-Moro population. The key geopolitical factor here, however, will be the access to Mindanao Sea and Sulu Sea – wherein Bangsamoro is privileged with both as seen in the map below.

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Bangsamoro Waters and Areas of Joint Cooperation (courtesy of OPAPP).

This is where the role of the US Asia Pivot comes into play. Just beyond Palawan is a hotly contested region called the Spratly Islands. Due to the Philippines-US visiting forces agreement, there remains to be a sizeable US presence in Palawan especially during the annual Balikatan exercise. The military exercise not only serves as a form of “goodwill among allies”, but also plays a role in deterring China’s navy from occupying much of the Spratly Islands especially those near Palawan.

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Map detailing Palawan in the center, with the Spratly’s in the left-hand corner of the map. The body of water between Palawan and Zamboanga Peninsula is the Sulu Sea (Courtesy of Google Maps).

US forces are also present in Subic within the Northern Island of Luzon. In the grand scheme of geopolitics, Subic remains as an important docking station for resupplying and refueling the US Navy Just recently, the Philippines and the US also signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement – which would allow the US to use Philippine military bases around the country. This agreement will serve as the United States’ legal justification to increase its presence in the Philippines.

In simple logic, more US troops means more capabilities for the US to influence outcomes within the South China Sea. Having a US presence in Bangsamoro would be strategic for the US Asia Pivot for the following reasons:

  1. Bangsamoro is in the center of Mindanao, Palawan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Bangsamoro can act as a staging area when it comes to supporting US forces in Palawan. Moreover, having a military presence near Malaysia and Indonesia would give the US a leverage in terms of negotiating security matters with these 2 countries.
  2. Having a military presence in Bangsamoro means that the US has a stronger military presence in Mindanao, which would complement other key areas that the US deems important within the Philippines – Subic and Palawan. With the entirety of the Philippines under its influence – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – the US could focus more on deterring China’s plan to monopolize the South China Sea.

By supporting the establishment of Bangsamoro, the US is basically courting the MILF in allowing US forces within their territory. More or less, while it’s safe to assume that the US is for genuine peace in Muslim Mindanao, it seems that such notions only play second fiddle in the context of the US Asia Pivot. Even in the issue of Bangsamoro, deterring China continues to be the United States’ top priority.

It’s true that US military presence in Mindanao has already existed at least since the 1990s. This isn’t really much of a secret for avid followers of geopolitical issues. Yet MILF’s support is key for US interest. A Bangsamoro that is pro-US means more legitimacy for America to increase its forces in Mindanao.

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US military presence in the Philippines 1992 – 2007. Ship icons signify areas where the US navy docks its warships (Courtesy of Focus Global South).

China is, of course, not oblivious with the ongoing US Asia Pivot. The Chinese strategy right now is to strengthen its military presence in the South China Sea before the full effect of the US Asia Pivot kicks in. This includes the construction of artificial Chinese bases within the area of the Spratly Islands to guarantee Chinese hegemony within the region.

One of these Chinese military bases is in Mischief Reaf, just within reach of the Philippines’ Ayungin forward base and US military presence in Palawan.

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Spratly Islands and areas of control (Courtesy of Inquirer).

The Spratly Islands dispute is another story in itself, but its relevance with Bangsamoro and the US Asia Pivot could not be denied. In the discourse of Bangsamoro, its relationship with the US Asia Pivot should not be disregarded considering its geopolitical implications that can both affect Philippine and US foreign policy. With China becoming more aggressive in the South China Sea, expect Bangsamoro to play a key role in influencing the outcome of the Spratly Islands dispute.

Substandard Fan Fiction

“Mr. Jaeger, you’re not suppose to be sleeping in class!”

“Oh crap, I’m sorry Mrs. Robinson!”

And quickly after being reprimanded, Eren Jaeger looks at the classroom clock just above Mrs. Robinson. “Shit, 5 more minutes” he mutters to himself.

“I heard that” whispers Mikasa “just chill, it’ll be over soon. We can fight Titans again after this.” Yet for some reason, time seems to be slowing down for Eren. It’s as if that for this particular day, something feels off.

“There’s something weird, I just don’t have the words for it” as Eren whispers to Mikasa “It’s as if we’re being watched.” Mikasa raises her right eyebrow, slightly turning her head left to face Eren “You’re probably just feeling frustrated. We have about 3 minutes before classes end, it’ll be over–“

*Lightning strike*

As the smoke settles, Eren finds himself in a dark place with only the floor illuminating the area. “Mikasa? Mrs Robinson? Where are you?!”

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Eren looks down, sees himself in a large circular platform of illuminated glass resembling several characters from Disney–

“Hey! Who’s there? Who’s speaking? Where are you?”

As Eren shouts– “Of course I’m shouting! I can hear you, you know?”

Wait? You can hear me? You’re just my fan fiction character. You’re not suppose to–

“Fan fiction?” As Eren asks himself– “Can you stop mentioning my name, I pretty much know who I am thanks”

No. No. No. No. You’re suppose to you know, not know that you’re just a character of this fan fiction. “Wait, wait wait!” Eren interjects “So you’re telling me, that I don’t exist? That I’m just a fan fiction character?” to which Eren suddenly feels extremely uncomfortable of such realizations.

“Of course I feel uncomfortable asshole! I still can’t believe it. No! I refuse to believe it. I’ve been slaying Titans for years! They’re almost extinct now. Mikasa and I fought and saved the world together! We fought for this world and you’re telling me that this is all just a fan fiction of some person?!”

Yup.

“Jesus Christ.”  Eren tries to reject what has been shown to him. His face becomes pale, his joints become tense. He panics inside, refusing to succumb to the gravity of his realizations. 

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“No I… You know what, prove it to me. Conjure up a Titan right here in this platform”. Are you sure about– “Of course I’m sure! Unless you’re lying, this can’t be real. I don’t know how you’re finding out what I’m feeling right now, but this can’t be real!”

It is real, but the fact that you still refuse… Alright, suit yourself. A Titan suddenly appears at the edge of the platform.

*Titan roars loudly at Eren*

“Holy shit a Titan! But how?” The Titan slowly walks towards Eren with its sites to devour him.

“Oh fuck no walls to attach for my 3D maneuver gear. What the hell is this place? Hey you story teller or whoever you are, fine I believe you. Just get me out of here before the Titan devours me”

Alright, alright– “DO IT NOW!!!” Okay! Eren teleports back to Tokyo, Titan dies. There happy?

“Shit, that was close. Wait a minute I’m back in my room. How? I still can’t believe what just happened? Wait was that all a dream?”

Nope, that wasn’t a dream. “Shit!” Eren mutters to himself “So I guess this is real huh?”

Yes Eren, I am the author of this fan fiction. Like it or not, you and this world are all just made up. And I control you, there’s nothing more to it.

“No, this can’t happen. I’ve never submitted myself to the Titans, and I’l never submit to you – whoever you may be. I will never surrender my freedom again!” 

Oh? Is that so? Well you have no choice! Eren forgets “Don’t you do it!” that he lives “STOP!” in a world of “I SAID STOP NOW” fan fiction and his “NOOOOOOO” memories of the author.

“….Huh?” As Eren emotes– “I can still hear you, you know.”

Shit. Well, this isn’t what I planned for my fan fiction.

50 Shades of Grey – Terrible

The movie was shit, and that’s pretty much the summary of the review.

Of course being a review, this blog needs to justify the shitty nature of the film itself.

Everyone is correct to expect that the film is horrible. Just buying the ticket alone, I actually hesitated if I even wanted to push through with the review in the first place. If the book is horrible, then certainly the movie must be worse. That is, after all, the unwritten rule of cinema. The book is always better. But in the context of 50 Shades of Grey, better isn’t even good to begin with.

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50 shades of fucked up

The movie does not hesitate to go straight to the famous interview scene” that introduces us to the protagonists: Anastasia Steel (or Steele, I forgot) and Christian Grey. And just looking at the name of Anastasia alone, you know that it’s gonna be a terrible movie. What kind of an author names their character “Anastasia Steel” anyway?

But going back, the first 10 minutes of movie alone would make you regret watching the movie. It just spoonfeeds its audience with every single detail, most of which wouldn’t even matter in the grander scale of the narrative.

Hey Anastasia, you think you can handle the interview?

Well, I have a 4.0 GPA so I think I can handle it.

*sigh* We get it. Anastasia is suppose to be this perfect innocent and intelligent girl – while Christian Grey is suppose to be this perfect sex god/billionaire/guy of your sexual dreams. If there is any movie that does not hesitate to use super cliche devices or overused tropes, 50 Shades of Grey is that kind of movie.

And if you think that the characterization is bad (if there is any to be honest), wait ’til you get to see the acting itself. We finally have a contender for the Kristen Stewart emoteless actress award. Thank you Anastasia for showing the audience that there is someone out there who is capable of being as bad or even a bit worse than Kristen Stewart’s acting skills!

I shit you not! The actress of Anastasia Steel (or Steele, whatever) can give Kristen Stewart a run for her money!

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Another title for the movie: Kristen Stewart in a porno

Moreover, there’s barely any consistency with the way the actors portray Anastasia and Christian. Most of the time, you’d see these 2 characters as they are: lame ducks. It’s only in the sex scenes where they start portraying these one-dimensional horny individuals. Fans would say that it is justified as during the sex scenes, the characters open up and show their true selves to each other. But if that’s the case, there should be a transition that’s evident with it – that transition was never present in the film.

What you get to see instead is the narrative forcefully justifying the horny nature of the characters, which when executed by the movie looks very unnatural. The protagonists just become lustful and addicted to sexual pleasure out of convenience to the overall plot and to the audience. It’s lazy storytelling truth be told.

Most scenes in the movie don’t really push the narrative into a higher level. You never get immersed in the movie, because there’s not reason to. It’s just stuck in a vicious cycle present in most pornography.

50 Shades of Grey Plot Cycle

50 Shades of Grey Plot Cycle

And that’s the biggest failure of the movie itself. 50 Shades of Grey is simply a highly-financed and big-budgeted porno. It doesn’t help the fact that I was surrounded by 30+ year old women actually being turned on by Christian Grey’s pseudo-BDSM while I was watching it in the cinema. When you watch 50 Shades of Grey, it means you’re paying 240 pesos for a terrible porno. Yeah, sex is great! But you can download shit better than this for free. Have you heard of YouPorn?

Of course, 50 Shades of Grey defenders would argue that the story is about two lovers in an abusive and not-so-normal relationship. Yeah well take your pick. The book glorifies this kind of violence and presents it as being romantic. On the other hand the movie one-ups the book by not necessarily glorifying sex without consent, but it never really focuses on the psychological dispositions of the protagonists either. It’s quite evident that the movie’s focus is to see two-people bang each other.

No matter how much you want to defend the movie, the truth is that the plot is shallow, characters are reduced to bipolar sexual caricatures layered with a cliched guy-girl relationship, and that the script writing looks as if that it never had a second draft.

“Thanks for the ride” as Anastasia terribly implies the sexual ride she had with Christian Grey

“Laterz baby” as Christian jokingly mocks his brother’s vocabulary with Anastasia, but says the same line again 30 minutes after in a more serious tone

“I want to touch you. Let me touch you” as Anastasia complains to Christian the she wants more than a sexual relationship, by having more sex (if that makes sense to you)

I swear, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Twilight movie series had a better scriptwriting than this bullshit. Those lines that I just showed you aren’t from the book either, they’re from the movie. But I can’t believe that the movie has the same unpoetic disaster that its source material also suffers from. It’s for this reason and more that the movie deserves a 2/10 score. It’s not even a good rating for well-made pornography standards.

50 Shades of Grey should be called out for what it really is, a money-making scheme that’s never intended to entertain anyone. It just simply aims to capitalize on the success of the book, and worse off the movie itself is self-aware. It knows that its target audience only wish to enjoy the sex scenes, and being that the customer is always right, it does so with no questions asked.

We the audience are the ones responsible for creating this monstrosity. And so long as we continue to contribute to 50 Shades of Grey’s movie sales, we’re only signaling to its Hollywood producers that this will be the trajectory of the greater movie industry: cheap films for big bucks.

In this battle, corporate interest has won over artistic talent – and 50 Shades of Grey is its vanguard.

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Universal Studios is pleased with your undying devotion to 50 Shades of Grey. Who knows? Maybe next time we might get to see a 50 Shades-themed ride at Universal Studios!

The Fallen 44, And A President Who Could Not Weep

The recent resignation of Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Purisma is a good start towards the road to accountability, but it is not enough to calm the calls for justice.

Several days have passed by since the alleged ‘misencounter’ – a word which does not even exist in the English dictionary – between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the PNP Special Action Force (SAF). In truth, it was not a ‘misencounter’, it was a deadly battle between two opposing forces. Sadly, the SAF lost – and they did so big time.

It is still unclear why Marwan was being coddled in alleged MILF territory, nor of the rest of the actual details that took place during the tragic battle. All we have is mere speculation, some of which are being used as a justification for an all-out-war against the MILF. What we are sure of, are the details to which how the Aquino Administration responded.

We have the President and his communications team constantly reminding the country that President Noynoy is “never at fault”. His absence in the first day of the Fallen 44’s funeral? “Let’s not blame the President for that, he is only human!” So his supporters say while the President was prioritizing his trip to Mitsubishi investors over the Fallen 44’s weeping families.

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Men of the Fallen 44

What about the President’s allies? Of course, Malacanang is quick to come to their defense – especially PNP Chief Purisma. But even Malacanang can only do so much to save their allies. It was too late for the PNP Chief. The only option he had left  was resignation.

Yet resignation is too little for justice. When blood is spilled, severe judgments must be made.

If indeed the President wants to continue with the peace process with the MILF, both Malacanang and the MILF must defend its very legitimacy. The only way to defend the peace process’ legitimacy is for both parties to work together in the pursuance of accountability. Indeed, for several lay people – this sounds like a traitorous move.

But it isn’t as simple as branding anyone as a ‘traitor’. If the MILF wishes to become a legitimate partner of the government, it must do so in full cooperation. The MILF has consistently worked with the government particularly in anti-terrorist operations through the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). It was also the MILF that coordinated with the government in order to bring the bodies of the Fallen 44 back to their kin. And indeed, it was also the MILF that provided Marwan’s severed finger for FBI’s DNA testing.

These acts can be seen as MILF’s continuing pursuance of the ceasefire agreement. While it is commendable for the MILF to set up its own group to investigate the Maguindanao encounter, it must go one step further by sharing this information with the government’s own ad hoc investigatory body. If MILF intel leads to tracking down suspects within their own side, then they must also be willing to hand these individuals over to the government’s jurisdiction in the context of the ceasefire agreement.

This looks to be a heavy compromise for the MILF – and it is – but it is a heavier loss for the MILF if the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) loses legitimacy. The rejection of the BBL in the congress would only lead to further conflict, which is neither in the interest of the MILF nor Malacanang.

For Malacanang, its investigation should not lead to white washing. The peace process can only continue if there is public support. The President must show to the public that heads would indeed roll, and that the MILF remains to be an integral partner for the country’s interests.

But so far, many Filipinos remain focused on the tragedy of the Fallen 44. This is partly because the President prefers to concentrate on keeping his ‘not-at-fault’ image intact, instead of pursuing real accountability. But for the President to continue into this route of ‘self-defense’ is not working in anyone’s favor – including himself. All it shows is that he lacks the courage to keep his political allies within the bureaucracy accountable to public interest.

This image only shows a President who refuses to weep, but only smile and ignore the very tragedy that he is faced. What should be done by President Aquino instead is for him to deliver administrative or even criminal liability to whomever ordered the failed operation in the first place. If PNP Purisma was the one who ordered the operation, then certainly resignation is not enough. He must be liable for it, even if it means imprisonment for one of the President’s closest ally.

If real justice is to be given for the Fallen 44, then accountability must be made by both the MILF and Malacanang. Cooperation among both of these parties can serve as the confidence-building measure that would not only bring back the legitimacy of the BBL, but also ensure that war never becomes an option in Mindanao.

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A Moro rebel standing in front of a sign calling for the support of the peace process

Filipinos want further bloodshed, but this is not the solution. Not only would it detract development gains in Mindanao, it would only sow the seeds for more extremist groups to take advantage in the assumption of conflict. Peace must be chosen over war. But we can only have peace if there is genuine accountability given from both sides of the tragedy.

Yet, this still does not answer several more questions. These questions include Marwan’s presence in the alleged MILF camp where the Fallen 44 lost their lives. So far, what we know from intel is that the area where the battle took place is known to be a “hybrid” camp of sort between the MILF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). It is the norm in conflict-ravaged Mindanao for rebel fighters to fight for more than one group. This is usually the case because many of these fighters are victims of the conflict itself. In war, food in the table is more important for them than highfalutin ideology.

Of course, this only leads to further complications to which an originally BIFF mandated objective of coddling Marwan is pinned towards the MILF instead. Either that, or the MILF could be lying. But if the MILF is indeed lying, then what use is Marwan for their interest? This only leads us to more questions than answers. But as far as interest is concerned, the BBL’s salvation is top priority for both the MILF and Malacanang.

As for US involvement in the case itself? That can probably be answered by one outlying strategy: The US Asia Pivot.

And if US Asia Pivot is dictating the presence of Washington’s agents within the area: What does the BBL mean for US interest against China’s growing militarization? How will this define Asia-Pacific’s future? And of course, how will this dictate the future of Mindanao?

More on that in my next blog post!

EDIT (11 March 2015): The continuation to the Bangsamoro Saga!

She’s Dating the Gangster – Another Generic Teen Flick

The recent Papal Visit in the Philippines taught me much about mercy and compassion, but it seems that I could not show mercy nor compassion for this film. That’s right, it’s the movie based on a Wattpad fan fiction called She’s Dating the Gangster.

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*sigh*

The movie is obviously meant for the KatNiel fandom. You know, the Kathryn Bernardo – Daniel Padilla romantic combination sweeping the Philippines? But of course, just like how religion is not excused from criticism – same goes with films obviously meant as a cash cow to milk its fan base.

One thing I noticed is that the movie decided not to follow its source material. It’s great in a way, because the source material had an awkwardly-constructed narrative with an overdose of cheesiness. What’s not great, however, is that the movie decided to replace the original source material’s story with another awkwardly-constructed narrative of its own.

I mean the scenes alone were constructed by the scriptwriters to force the two protagonists to fall in love with each other. Actually, make that 4 protagonists. That’s right! Remember when I said that the movie decided to move away from its source material? That’s because the script writer felt like they wanted to portray two storylines at the same time! Which is great if executed well, but not really as you’ll see in a bit.

Of course, being a movie that was constructed as a means to milk cash from its fandom – they decided that the other 2 protagonists/teen couples should also be portrayed by THE SAME actors. So we have Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla playing 2 ROLES in 1 MOVIE! What a great idea!

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And just in case you didn’t get my sarcasm in my last sentence

I mean, of all the KatNiel films that had so many crazy ideas to cash on the KatNiel craze – this idea takes the cake! You want more KatNiel? Let’s put them into 2 roles at the same time! But I digress.

Going back to the scenes. It felt forced. I understand how circumstances have more liberties within the cinema world, I mean sure that’s artistic liberty. But it starts getting even more irrational when you have so many plot devices that’s forcing the romantic couples to fall in love with each other. It just doesn’t feel natural. And the fact that it feels forced, that means you have a terrible film direction.

Speaking of film direction, it also feels annoying how Kathryn Bernardo’s 2 female roles need to have the same pa landi trait that doesn’t change based on circumstance. I mean, is this suppose to be romantic? Cause the romantic background music that’s playing right now is telling me that it should be? But no, it’s not. It’s annoying. In happy moments, Kathryn is being flirtatious. In normal moments, Kathryn is being flirtatious. If not flirtatious, she’s being kikay or low brow. In fact, those are the only 2 characterizations that Kathryn can portray for her characters – either flirtatious or low brow.

I mean sure, Kathryn’s characters have to relate with the audience – with the audience being mostly the type who enjoy low brow entertainment – but what’s lacking for most of Kathryn’s acting is that she couldn’t show the natural side of her character or any sort of unique development. Forget about the 2 characters that Kathryn is portraying, because they’re practically the same! There’s no character differentiation.

Same goes with Daniel Padilla’s 2 roles.  The way that Daniel and Kathryn portray their characters are simply generic cut outs of some script. It feels unnatural, and they portray the characters so unnaturally that I’m not even sure how the audience can relate with them.

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Kenji who? I forgot the character’s name seeing how generic they are. I’ll just call you Daniel 1, and the other guy Daniel 2

Okay fine. To be fair, there were some moments of greatness that the movie could have capitalized on. Yes, I’m serious! There was this one scene in Kenji’s house – in which, Daniel Padilla was portraying Kenji – where he was confessing to Kathryn about how he misses his big sister or what not. In that scene, Daniel and Kathryn’s acting were actually pretty okay! I mean, I could really feel the emotion from the two. And these scenes are great because we don’t see a cut out cardboard of Daniel and Kathryn. We actually see the characters themselves having a unique identity of their own separate from their actors.

But what ruins most of these genuinely great scenes is the generic love songs that keeps on playing. I mean, sure there are times that it’s good to play background music as a means to strengthen the emotional aspect of a scene – but for the movie, it’s just overused! Never mind that the background music used were pretty generic, the way that they were overused gets pretty annoying. And the movie is 2 hours! That’s right, 2 HOURS. For most of the 2 hours, you hear a generic love song or a generic sad song that makes the movie look more like a 2 hour music video than a film.

Maybe I’m just pretty harsh with my critique. The fact that you constantly see KatNiel trending in Philippine twitter-space everyday get’s pretty annoying. But suspending my bias against KatNiel, what’s bad about this film is not necessarily the generic and awkwardly-constructed storyline. What’s saddening about this film is really on its execution. Honestly, if the movie knew how to focus on its strong points without pandering the typical movie cliches – this could have actually been a decent film. No joke!

And this is what separates romantic films like English Only, Please and She’s Dating the Gangster – it really boils down to execution. Unfortunately, She’s Dating the Gangster chooses to spoon feed its audience instead of taking risks. This is why the movie deserves a 3/10 score.

What makes this movie a bit tolerable are the few gems such as the set design and the few workable scenes. It’s always great to relive the 90s and its gadgets! But for the rest of the movie, it’s a living nightmare. Never mind the terrible fashion of the movie’s 90s universe, the execution alone would make you cringe.

Pope Francis Is Still Progressive, Even If He Is Against Same-Sex Marriage

Let’s get this straight, I am in no way condoning the Catholic Church’s past or present atrocities – whether it may be direct or structural violence. As an agnostic who adheres to liberal and social democratic lines, I wish to see the Vatican reform itself in order to be one with the 21st Century.

But I am also a pragmatic, I recognize the fact that it would probably take centuries more for the Vatican to realize such reforms like the acceptance of women in priesthood or the Church’s retraction of doctrine against homosexual acts.

It’s these advocacies which have made some of my more non-religious buddies remain critical of Pope Francis’ years in the papacy. Just recently here in Manila, Pope Francis has once again toed the line especially with regards to divorce and same-sex marriage. In his speech in the Manila Cathedral, he said:

“Proclaim the beauty and truth of the Christian message to a society which is tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family. As you know, these realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture.”  ~ Pope Francis, during his homily in the Manila Cathedral

This is – of course – in reference to the growing grassroots movement in the Philippines, that advocate for the legalization of several policies including divorce and same-sex marriage. Even the Pope made reference to the Charlie Hebdo issue – while he did not claim to justify the violence made by the gunmen, he did claim the he understood their intentions. In his own words:

“[If a friend] says a swear word against my mother, then he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of faith.” ~ Pope Francis, during his courtesy call in the Malacañang Palace

It’s these points of contention that many non-religious circles in Facebook have focused on to strongly criticize Pope Francis’ perceived failure to reform the Catholic Church. But before someone tries to twist my words out of context, does this mean that Pope Francis statements should be free from criticism? Of course not. Frankly, I do disagree with Pope Francis’ defense that religions should be free from criticism. I disagree with the Pope’s stance on same-sex marriage, divorce, and other progressive issues.

But sadly for the militantly non-religious, they are quick to dismiss the very reforms of Pope Francis in favor of their confirmation bias blinded by liberal idealism.

It was Pope Francis who initiated a Synod in 2014, which began debates among the high-ranking Catholic Cardinals and Bishops if unmarried partners – whether straight couples or same-sex – could contribute lessons and values that are acceptable under Church doctrine. Of course, that Synod failed. It was rejected by the more conservative parties of the Vatican.

Yet as a liberal myself, this Synod – although a failure – became an impetus for further dialogue about issues on family-related matters. These issues were left under the rug, so to speak, back when Pope Benedict XVI was still the sovereign authority of the Vatican.

It was also Pope Francis who reminded the Catholic Church itself, to lessen its focus against fighting advocacies of same-sex marriage and return to its roots as an institution that concentrates on more material aspects such as poverty and hunger. This does not mean that the Vatican would retract its stance against same-sex marriage – but what Pope Francis recognizes here is that the Church has wasted time and resources fervently demonizing homosexual acts when such resources could have been strategically used elsewhere.

If you are an ardent follower of Vatican politics, you would see Pope Francis’ reforms with how he handles Church finances. Investments in the Vatican’s several charity organizations have been increased. Donations towards the Vatican have also been increased in pursuit of Pope Francis’ shift from the spiritual matters to material needs.

He has also made the financial regime of the Vatican more transparent, which allowed the Church itself to find several finances that were not originally recorded in the institution’s balance sheet. This is in stark contrast with the several scandals plagued by the Vatican’s finances when the Church was still under the management of Pope Benedict XVI.

Yet, even with these reforms – some of the non-religious are quick to disregard these achievements made by Pope Francis.They argue that if Pope Francis is the supreme sovereign of the Vatican, then it must be easy for him to use his absolute authority to establish real change. Sadly, that’s not how Vatican politics work. In the same way that Barrack Obama is challenged by gridlock due to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, Pope Francis’ authority is checked by hard-line conservatives within the Vatican. The irony of this – some of these non-religious liberals are quick to defend Obama when his reforms are hampered by the Republicans, but are quick to dismiss Pope Francis when his reforms are rejected by Vatican hardliners.

And this is the problem with some of the non-religious circles especially those in Facebook. As a liberal, I sympathize with them when they call for more reforms within the Vatican. Yet, I do recognize that it’s their die-hard adherence to liberalism itself that they lose their pragmatism. In fact, some of these non-religious circles online go against the very fabric of liberal strategy itself by asking such an impossible feat overnight – these people go against the concept of organic change. A concept which has guided liberal strategy ever since.

We must accept the fact that Pope Francis reforms would take years, even decades before they are realized. In the decades that follow when Pope Francis papacy ends, would we see a Vatican that accepts same-sex marriage or divorce? I doubt, because it would honestly take a miracle for the Vatican to change its mindset about this issue.

But would we see a Vatican that’s more open with the possibility of such concepts? A Vatican that can at least tolerate these norms that are slowly being accepted? Maybe so, and we would have Pope Francis to thank for that.

What Pope Francis’ State Visit Means to the Philippines

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(I originally wrote this as a public post in my Facebook account. I felt, however, that this work of mine would be a great political blog post of mine to signify not only my first ‘political blog post’ – but also to ‘welcome’ the start of Pope Francis’ State Visit to the Philippines)

Pope Francis has always been a Pope for the Poor, and his very reforms in returning the Vatican to its roots – to become again the Church of the Poor – is well-founded in his actions and policies. But it depresses me to see that in the midst of Pope Francis’ state visit to the Philippines, the powerful and elite seek to monopolize the State Visit as a means for further prestige and recognition. Damn the poor, our elites say. For our very elite believe in themselves to be the representative of the country. It will be they who would be shaking hands with the Pope for most of his itinerary, not the very marginalized.

But Pope Francis has never been fond of such illusions. Rather than shaking the clean hands of the elite, he prefers to hug the dirty and downtrodden poor. Rather than ceremoniously dining in expensive cuisines with the rich and powerful, he prefers to struggle with the hungry and marginalized sectors of society.

And it’s very sad to hear that our own CBCP – the representing institution of the Vatican in this country – has called on the government to further marginalize the very audience that Pope Francis wishes to speak with. When the CBCP has called on “to clean the streets” in order to give an ideal representation during the Pope’s visit, the government followed through by forcing lowly street vendors away from the vicinities of which the Pope is expected to pass by.

I am not part of the poor, and whoever so reads this post is probably not part of the poor either. But we should not forget the very essence of Pope Francis’ State Visit – it should be focused on the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. The tagline of the visit itself speaks to this theme, “Mercy and Compassion”. The fact that our society remains under the chains of social, economic, and political inequality – just goes to show that all of us need mercy and compassion as an antidote against the ills of our nation.

UPDATE: More blogs to come, hopefully!

I’d be making more blogs soon. Wasn’t able to finish the rest of the MMFF film review. Anyway, wasn’t planning to finish it anyway. To subjugate myself through mostly terrible movies is not worth the ticket cost lol.

But yeah, expect more movie reviews, life and drama, oh and my first political blog post! Chow!

The Theory of Everything – More Than Just the Fault in Our Stars

When you have some reviewers that criticize the movie for lessening its focus on Hawking’s work, it’s more or less that they miss the point. Some would cite BBC’s Hawking as a good film that balances the focus between Stephen Hawking’s life and his work – particularly in his days in Cambridge. But that’s pretty much the point. We already know a lot about Hawking the Physicist, but we are yet to know much about Hawking the Human.

The Theory of Everything plans to discover the humanity of Stephen Hawking, and the significance of Jane Wilde in his life. While it is true that it is Hawking’s work that made him world famous, it can be argued that it’s his personal challenges that gave way for his intentions. This is pretty much the narrative of the movie. It is a story of hope amid adversity. It’s not just about the relationship of Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde – full stop – but how their relationship fares the harshness of reality.

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“While there is life, there is hope” – which means that there’s still hope for you to get a girlfriend. 

It’s this type of narrative which the movie was able to portray so perfectly. From the setting, right down to the everyday objects used by the characters; it feels as if that the movie was able to give some sort of significance to it. This is evident when in the movie, Stephen Hawking received his all too familiar machine that gives him his robotic voice. By that alone, the object itself becomes significant because it is given meaning by the film – and we are very much familiar with Stephen Hawking’s robotic voice, that went on to become a part of his identity even.

I’m not really sure if the movie’s portrayal of Hawking’s life is done in the most honest way possible. Of course, it is more or less possible that there were some scenes that may have been inspired more by artistic liberty rather than mundane honesty. Nonetheless, whatever the truth is may not necessarily matter if the movie’s focus is more of the narrative rather than historical accuracy. If the directors and producers of the film wanted an honest biography, they would have instead made a normal and undramatic documentary.

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Besides, Stephen Hawking himself endorsed the film. So it’s probably true, “probably” being so-so.

But if the movie’s focus is in the overall narrative, does it play well? I’d say yes. The Theory of Everything knows which scenes to place in the overall arch of the story. It knows which scenes to focus on, how they relate with each other, and how side stories would just mesh perfectly by driving the story even further. The beauty of the film is that – although it puts much focus on Stephen Hawking – it was also able to journey through Jane Wilde’s challenges and frustrations. It does so without necessarily leaving Hawking’s story behind, but rather actually complementing his story even.

Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking himself was a magnificent feat. His portrayal of Stephen Hawking’s gradual evolution of his motor neuron disease was convincing at best. But it was not only that act alone that made Eddie’s acting shine – he was still able to give a strong presence and character to Stephen Hawking, much more in the latter part of the movie where he was only limited to a few words due to said disability. It’s through these acts where it made his character look legitimate. It felt like I was seeing the actual Stephen Hawking.

Felicity Jones portrayal of Jane Wilde was also done well. Her acting would make you cheer for her support of Stephen Hawking. Although the movie wonderfully puts the chess pieces in place for audiences to see Jane Wilde’s struggles, it was Felicity Jones’ acting that sealed the deal. It’s through her portrayal of Jane Wilde that made her insecurities and frustrations seemed real.

Eddie Redmayne’s strong presence and Felicity Jones’ legitimate portrayal was the perfect combination needed by the movie itself. When you see these two facing the tribulations set by the movie’s plot devices, you just can’t help but cheer for them no matter the impossibility. You see these two grow a bond that changes their characters for better or worse. This is only possible because of the two’s superb acting and the movie’s wonderful storytelling.

And what better way to tell a story by not just simply having a well executed plot, but also having perfected the music and set design that tells a story of its own. The Theory of Everything makes no expense that whatever is seen or heard in the film continues to have relevance to the plot – from the background music, to the side characters, right down to the objects. The movie just doesn’t put the characters in a setting just because it looks nice, but rather because it enriches the narrative itself. The movie doesn’t play a background music just because it sounds dramatic, but because it has a role to play in the story. Every line, every object, even the pacing of the story itself gives meaning to the overall narrative of the movie.

From its well-placed British humor to the depressing but self-actualizing dramatic moments – The Theory of Everything is just worth watching. It not only entertains the audience, but let’s you appreciate the artistry of the film itself. It’s due to this that I’d give the movie an overall score of 9/10. No amount of words can fully describe the beauty of the movie. I mean, just at 900 words alone and I am still challenged by how I can just simply describe the magnificence of the film without spoiling much of its plot. No matter, just go and watch it! If you want a movie that sends you on a feels trip, this is definitely the right film for you.

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They should change the title of the movie to “The Feels of Everything”. That’s pretty much what the movie really is about.

English Only, Please – One Big Hugot

Whenever we are reminded of our bittersweet past – particularly with that-person-who-must-not-be-named – Filipinos have a tendency to mention the all too common expression: hugot.

We dig deep into our innermost being, recalling experiences ala psychotherapy Freudian style. English Only, Please is a movie that explores the Filipino hugot. It does so by mostly forgoing traditional formulas of FIlipino romantic comedies, rather taking inspiration from more internet meme worthy experiences that we see too often in Facebook and Twitter. For words like hugot, motmot, nosebleed and whatever known Filipino jargon we see and hear in everyday Filipino pop culture – English Only, Please pokes fun at these narratives. It does so by remaining down to earth in its interpretation of the not-so-modern Filipino relationship.

The duo of Derek Ramsey and Jennylyn Mercado was unexpected. Honestly when I first saw the trailer, I was skeptical if their chemistry could be brought to – at least – workable levels. Last time I saw Derek Ramsey in a romantic film, it was from those secret affair themed movies that didn’t really do wonders for him. In those films, he was pretty much just a walking hunk of plot device only to exist as a cause for conflict between two women. He was not really a character per se. Heck, it would have probably been more entertaining if we just replaced Derek Ramsey with a bank account, and the two women turned into Jews.

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Just imagine the hilarity if No Other Woman was about two Jews fighting over a bank account instead. Racist, but hilarious!

But kidding aside, Derek Ramsey’s portrayal of Julian Parker was actually pretty convincing. His acting was very natural, it’s as if that audiences were really seeing a Filipino-American that has no knowledge of Filipino customs whatsoever. Jennylyn Mercado’s portrayal of Tere Madlansacay was well done too. We already know that Jennylyn has this kikay side, and to portray a kikay character in the movie was probably not too difficult her. Of course, we always see kikay characters in local movies. What makes Tere Madlansacay different from the generic kikays of Philippine Cinema is that she doesn’t bank so much on over-the-top acting. Jennylyn Mercado gives us a character that we can actually relate with. Just like any other Filipina, Tere Madlansacay shares the same struggles and imperfections that we are all too familiar.

The two personalities just click. Not necessarily because they had the right chemistry, but because Tere Madlansacay and Julian Parker are seen slowly building each other’s characters for the better. Unlike other films, English Only, Please does not give us a guy-needs-girl or girl-needs-guy sort of narrative. These tropes are outdated, and have been saturated already by not-so-wonderful romantic comedies. The movie gives us – instead – two characters willing to learn the complexities of love; no matter the consequences.

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And love is definitely complicated. Just ask this love guru, even he’s confused about it.

English Only, Please knows very well when to make audiences laugh, and when to give them the feels. Unlike Praybeyt Benjamin 2, the movie doesn’t choose to bank on outlandish humor. For most of the movie’s jokes, comedy is based on circumstance. A character gives out the perfect timing to be witty or sarcastic, and fate – or should I say, the movie’s screenplay – wonderfully puts all the chess pieces into place. The events portrayed just work out for movie, enriching the narrative and driving it into deeper levels. For a movie with a simple plot, execution matters – and English Only, Please executes its story wonderfully so.

The movie has its flaws, such as that there are some scenes where things become too cheesy for its own good. It would have also been nice if the movie went deeper with Julian Parker’s frustrations, instead of focusing too much on Tere Madlansacay. Nonetheless, such flaws did not necessarily affect the overall narrative. In fact, they were pretty subtle if viewed by an average audience. This is because the movie knows its strengths, and focuses on it for the entire screen time.

English Only, Please is one of the few gems that you could see in the current list of MMFF films. It definitely deserves the awards and distinctions that it has received so far. Derek Ramsey and Jennylyn Mercado are great actors – not because they were the best, but because they were able to relate their characters so well with its audience; and they were able to do so in the most natural way possible. Its narrative may be simple – and falls short of truly innovating romantic comedy. Yet, English Only, Please is like a simple cake that’s well done – and its simple but well executed story line is what makes it work!

It is this fact alone, that I’d give the movie a 7/10 overall score. English Only, Please would take you to familiar romantic comedy cliches, but twist it in an inherently Filipino experience. You will fall in love with Tere Madlansacay’s bubbly character, and you will find it cute to see Julian Parker try to familiarize himself with Filipino pop culture and jargon. For most of the movie though, you will follow the two characters into a journey that untangles the complexities of love – admitting to yourself that to a certain extent, we are all Julian Parkers and Tere Madlansacays. We are all idiots in love.