Sunday, June 14, 2020

Lockdown: The Ws and H of Our Generation

If you will sum up the year 2020 in one word, even if we are still in the first half, one of the words that would easily come to mind is “lockdown.”

Online dictionary defines lockdown as "an emergency measure or condition in which people are temporarily prevented from entering or leaving a restricted area or building during a threat of danger."

Unless you are living under a rock or deep in the Mariana Trench, you will surely agree that this generation has never faced a worldwide nightmare like the COVID-19 pandemic. Global economy nosedived… thousands of deaths recorded every day… people turned like prisoners in their own homes… millions of employees affected of the full or partial workplace closures… unimaginable things became realities.

But in the midst of fears, uncertainties and so many questions looming in the air, hope still exists. We celebrate every small win humanity achieves from inspiring survival stories to good news of possible cure for the virus to initiatives of organizations and individuals who have gone extra miles in this battle against the unseen enemy.

I would like to share not only my story. I am recollecting tales of other people I know and come to know and the many Ws that we faced during the lockdown along with the traps and cages that a lot of us are still trying to unlock while looking for the H.

My name is Richard. A 40 something family man who has a day job as a main source of income. In the last 90 days, I miss (an understatement) fun breakfast chats with officemates, the traffic jams to and from work (yes, because I used those moments to finish my favorite TV series); weekend family dates; our annual summer getaway and the euphoria of seeing #WalangPasok on my feeds because of a national holiday.

My daily musings are not really worthy of a social media shoutout compared to the noble acts of good Samaritans like police officer Jon who gave his well-kept $100 bill to a delivery guy he caught due to a traffic violation; bicycle owner Fe who refused to accept the payment of an senior citizen who have been wanting to buy her bike; Couple Penn and Avic who despite having no income converted their shop to be a kitchen for free meals of needy strangers and frontliners; student Kenneth who wanted to sell all his medal to help out his mother who has no work; Doctor to the Barrios Dr. Mar who give free consultations all his life and died along with other doctors in their battle versus COVID-19.

They are just some of the people who kept this nation sane in the midst of the chaos with their kind hearts, sacrifices and the good vibes they bring.

To be honest, when the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was announced last March, I thought it was no big deal. I am not new to work from home set-up since I used to have clients from overseas from previous work. I can also work on my own although I still prefer face to face to face team collaboration.

For the first few weeks, it feels okay and I thought I am already getting the hang of it. I receive my monthly salary and have it transferred to online payment channels which I used to purchase grocery and food for delivery.

But then it hit me. I lost count of how many times I uttered or sent messages of condolence. The number of deaths during the pandemic, whether due to the virus of not, is alarming. The worse feeling is I was not able to personally pay my final respect to my three cousins who died just weeks apart due to different medical conditions.

This is something that will haunt me for a while. I hate to admit it but I was not prepared for this.

You need not to go far to witness heroism, how bold or simple the act may be. You can hear about them in the news or read from a Facebook share of a friend. You might also already sitting beside them now in your respective offices or talking to them via online meeting rooms if you are working from home like me.

It is through online meetings and messenger group chats (GCs) that I was able to have real talks and exchange of thoughts with friends, officemates and relatives on how to get through the situation.

We even had a blind survey among colleagues and through that activity, we were able to find out that most of us are experiencing mental issues like excessive worrying or fear, feeling sad or low, confused thinking or problems concentrating, sudden mood changes, prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger, difficulties understanding or relating to other people, changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy, and other concerns. Our team is already taking appropriate steps to manage the situation.

I also find a venue to help others in need in social media. Together with some friends, we silently chip in donations from cash to grocery items to lend a hand to victims of online food delivery pranks, individuals who have nothing to eat, frontliners who are in need of PPE and others.

The joy of being able to help is priceless and in a way therapeutic.

You might have heard of this saying for countless times before but it's Oprah Winfrey's version that I always remember, “I trust that everything happens for a reason, even if we are not wise enough to see it.”

The magnitude of the impact brought about by the coronavirus pandemic is an enormous challenge across the globe. While we continue to thrive and heal in the midst of waves of disruptions, many of us still struggles to accept all the lost opportunities, financial challenges and worse, death of loved ones.

What have a learned during all of these disruptions? It is still hard to say honestly because the battle has not won yet and we still don’t know what is the end of this war looks like.

Maybe, I learned to be more hopeful and how to patiently wait. Indeed, it is during circumstances like this that we discover a little bit more something about ourselves.

Why should we move forward? Remember that there is no place to go but up when you’re down.

Why should we lose hope when there are still courageous frontliners out there--- military and policemen manning the streets rain or shine, health workers with their lives on the line, delivery personnel who bring food and supplies to our doorsteps, government employees sending help to every corner of the country---- and they only ask for prayers for their safety.

Why should you easily embrace darkness when there is a promise of celebration of humanity once we finally reach the light at the end of this tunnel.

Right now, the question of how is still something we all wish to answer as soon as possible. How do we end this pandemic?

There is no guaranteed respond for now.  However, we can start healing one wound at a time. Let us learn to change tires while driving.

I want to share a prayer that I prepared for one of our online meetings. I feel a sense of comfort every time I recite it before I begin my day. I hope you'll experience the same feeling when you read it.

Dear God, 

You know how hard the struggles we are going through now. Many of us bear problems financially, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. There are some who feels like giving up while others already lost the fight. 

But despite all these challenges, we continue to keep the faith knowing that you have the power to remove all the yokes that had been giving us sleepless nights.

We believe that your healing hands is always upon us... that help is on the way... that the promise of cure to the pandemic is within reach.

Continue to guide, bless and protect us with your embrace of unconditional love. We will fight our way out of this chaos, we will heal as one, and celebrate every small victory.

We ask all of these through your holy name. Amen

Please continue to support efforts of the government and private sector during these challenging times. This pandemic may have broken this generation but we will not be defined on how many times we fall but how many times to stand up and hold our ground. We’re all in this together. We heal as one.


This story is an entry to ComCo Southeast Asia’s “Write to Ignite Blogging Project”. The initiative is a response to the need of our times, as every story comes a long way during this period of crisis. Igniting and championing the human spirit, “Write to Ignite Blog Project” aims to pull and collate powerful stories from the Philippine blogging communities to inspire the nation to rise and move forward amidst the difficult situation. This project is made possible by ComCo Southeast Asia, co-presented by Eastern Communications and sponsored by Electrolux, Jobstreet and Teleperformance.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Brillante Mendoza weaves brilliance in the award-winning MMFF entry ‘Mindanao’

The cast and crew of Mindanao led by award-winning director Brillante Mendoza and one of the best actresses of her generation Judy Ann Santos.  

Whenever people talk about director Brillante Mendoza, his work would often be described as thought-provoking, moving, socially relevant and award-winning.

Who can forget Mendoza’s first film Masahista in 2005 where a newcomer Coco Martin portrays the role of young man offering massage service to gay men and touches the harsh realities of life?  Four years later, Coco was again tapped by Mendoza for the movie Kinatay where the later won the best director plum at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, the first Filipino to achieve such milestone.

Mendoza has also worked with the Superstar of Philippine Cinema Nora Aunor in the movie Thy Womb (2012), his first movie set in Mindanao, and Cannes Best Actress Jacklyn Jose for the 2016 drama Ma’ Rosa.

In this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), Mendoza is bringing his winning ways with the much-acclaimed movie Mindanao to compete in the box-office with other entries:  The Mall, The Merrier (Vice Ganda/ Anne Curtis); Mission Unstapabol: The Don Identity (Vic Sotto/ Maine Mendoza); Sunod (Carmina Villarroel/ Mylene Dizon); 3POL Trobol: Huli Ka Balbon! (Coco Martin/ Ai-Ai Delas Alas/ Jennylyn Mercado); Miracle in Cell No. 7 (Aga Muhlach/ Xia Vigor); Write About Love (Roco Nacino/ Miles Ocampo); and Culion (Iza Calzado/ Jasmine Curtis-Smith / Meryll Soriano).

Mindanao does not lack star power with Judy Ann Santos leading the cast of this movie graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board. Juday won the Best Actress award for this film at the 41st Cairo International Film Festival while the full-length feature was also recognized as Best in Artistic Contribution.

If you need a good cry this holiday season, Mindanao is a certified tearjerker. Make sure that along with your popcorn, you have a lot of tissues on hand because things can be messy when you started to sob with Juday. Another good news is that you can now tag along your kids watching a Brillante Mendoza film because the multi award-winning director used animation in his feature for the first time to incorporate the epic tale of Rajah and Sulayman in this action drama film about Saima (Judy Ann) who spent the final days of her daughter Aisa (Yuna Tangog)who was battling cancer at the House of Hope in Davao City while his husband Malang (Allen Dizon) dodges bullets as a medic in the military operation in Maguindanao.

My personal takeaways after watching Mindanao is that, regardless of religion, beliefs and social status, we are all equal when we see death waving at us. Whether its cancer or a loaded gun that is slowly killing you, it doesn’t even matter because the bottom line is if you don’t survive, you’re dead. Plus, it was quite an experience even just through this film to witness how our Muslim brothers and sisters pay their last respect to their loved ones who passed away.

But the movie is not really that gloomy because Mendoza was able to weave scenes of hopes and colourful moments to balance the heavy premise of the story. Watch out for the heart-warming grocery store scene and you might whisper, “Faith in humanity restored.”

Indeed, the brilliance of Mendoza is flying and spewing fire like Ginto and Pula from the popular folktale from the South, in this yet another eye-opener and one of the front-runners for the Best Picture at the MMFF award ceremonies.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Babae at Baril: A shot in the arm to a society of gender stereotypes

What can a girl do with a gun?

This is the premise of the Janine Gutierrez starrer Babae at Baril, an official entry to the ongoing QCinema International Film Festival.

(Spoiler alert: Some key scenes of the movie will be discussed here)

The film begins by introducing the audience to the city landscape that regular commuters can easily identify as Cubao. Different angles of the setting were shown but the sense of horror that ordinary Filipinos experience when they go through the tunnel or the overpass bridge is felt ---- traffic jam, smog or even threats of possible physical harm of any form.

When a timid yet angelic face of Gutierrez graced the screen, you can’t help but smile because how can a movie go wrong with a gun-slinging pretty woman on the lead role. But what is quite impressive is how director Rae Red built the persona of Gutierrez from a silent, calm and submissive saleslady to a tough reckless alpha woman. The movie is Red’s sophomore feature and first solo directorial effort.

Gutierrez’ character was a victim of many predator’s and unpleasant situations in the first part of the film. She held out against workplace verbal abuse and unending catcalls day in, day out. Until the unfortunate night came when she was raped by her co-worker (Felix Roco) who was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It was also the same night she found purpose to a gun she found right on her doorstep.

The character build up was so effective that I overheard someone from the back, “Ay, bakit di niya binaril sa mukha?”

This was when Gutierrez decided not to gun down Roco when she was able to corner her after a chase scene. Anyone who is carrying a yoke on their shoulder can relate to Gutierrez’ role and for sure is also cursing in their head along with her when she fought back to all the people who have wronged her in the past.

Aside from vividly showcasing the realities of domestic physical abuse and office sexual harassments, Babae at Baril also tackled extra judicial killings and even the poor working conditions of many Pinoys are currently just bitterly swallowing because of lack of opportunities and power-tripping bosses and their threats, “Kung ayaw mong sumunod, huwag ka na nang babalik dito.”

My favorite line in the movie is Gutierrez in-your-face –back-to-you anger growl with gun pointed to Roco, “Gusto mong iputok ko sa ‘yo ito!?” which you will only appreciate if you go watch the it  during festival run (October 13 to 22) at Gateway Mall, Ayala Trinoma, Robinsons Galleria, UPFI Cine Adarna, Cinema ’76 Anonas, and Cinema Centenario in Quezon City.

The film also stars Elijah Canlas, JC Santos, and Sky Teotico with special participation of Ruby Ruiz, Allan Paule, and Archie Adamos.

The musical scoring is also commendable. The sounds were on point to set the mood of the scenes. The classic rock hit "Magnanakaw" by Asin is fit to the film and was played timely in during some of the more important film sequences.

You better watch Babae at Baril because depending of its success, I personally see at least a part 2 or spin-offs based on the lives of the other characters. Whatever happened to Gutierrez’ female dorm mate who was a victim of physical and sexual abuse? Or the young step sister of the EJK victim? Or Cruz, the employee of the month awardee whom Gutierrez bumped into during a bus ride? They all seem have interesting back stories to tell. Remember that there is a box-full of guns shown in the middle of the movie which were never seen again.

In today’s world, women in many developed countries now enjoy equal rights to men. However, reality bites that there are still gender stereotypes that pervade our culture. Films like Babae at Baril maybe the shot in the arm our society need. Maybe.

Babae at Baril is one of the three recipients of production grants amounting to P1.5 million each from QCinema and is presented by Cignal Entertainment in partnership with Epicmedia. The movie will be competing along with Glenn Barit’s The Cleaners and Arnel Barbarona’s Kaaway sa Sulod, and against entries from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, and China.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Sylviahera: A journey to life with a silver lining

If someone will do a survey among Filipinos to write down the reasons that make them happy, more likely the top answer would be "family."

It is the same reason why we have millions of OFWs around the world working hard to give a decent living for the loved ones they left here in the Philippines. It is realy unimaginable all of a sudden to be away for a long time from people you have shared almost all the highs and lows of all your life. Sacrifice is an understatement. Believe me, I worked overseas for years almost two decades ago.

A few days ago, I was fortunate to have met in person one of the actresses I really admire, Ms. Sylvia Sanchez. She was given recognitions from in and out of the country because of her almost impeccable portrayal of every role given to her. My favorite perhaps is her portrayal as a loving mother in ABS-CBN's moving drama series "The Greatest Love" where Sylvia gave a performance of a lifetime as Gloria, a woman who have gone through tough challenges in life from being a rape victim to living as a scavenger to survive and at the end suffers Alzheimer's disease. All of these challenges she have faced but still she have shown the essence of being a mother.

On Christmas day, Sylvia will share to us how to keep your family together and how to make each time that you are together memorable, especially when the time comes that the children already have their own lives. This time, it will be through an online reality show called "Sylviahera" that anyone in the world can watch via Youtube and Facebook. When I say anyone, it will also cater not only to fellow Filipinos but also to foreigners curious about Pinoy life. Every episode comes with English subtitles.

At the blogcon held at Bizu, Greenhills, you can feel her presence as a caring mother the moment she arrived. She went around and greeted everyone with "Oh, naka-order na ba kayo?" to "May paborito ako dito tikman n'yo din, ha." or "Pasensiya na if nakalimutan ko pangalan nyo pero tanda ko mukha ng karamihan sa inyo dito."

I was so into the dalandan juice that I ordered when I heard her say at my back, "Kain muna tayo ha, tawagan ko lang si yaya?"

"Mam, Yaya Dub, po ba?", I mentioned in jest.

She laughed and held both my shoulders and literally shook me, "Ay naku, naba-bash na nga ako eh.!"

This is how casual, cool and real Sylvia is. 

In Sylviahera, you will learn about the life and dilemmas of Jojo Campo, a simple girl from the town of Nasipit, Agusan Del Norte in the island of Mindanao who became the actress that we all love now and eventually married a man from a traditional Spanish family.

Presently, two of her kids already followed her footsteps in the entertainment industry and she is already feeling the struggle of bringing everyone in the family together to enjoy a meal she prepared.

One Christmas morning, she went to her hometown alone, built a box that transforms into a one-burner kitchen, and decides to embark into a culinary adventure with a goal of finding ingredients, learning new recipes, and bond with mothers who are also going through the same situation--and eventually rekindle simple, warm moments with the family that she implores to keep together, no matter what... and it is through food and conversation that she expresses her joy and love for them.

Sylviahera is a mother’s journey that will tell us that no matter how seldom a family eats together, it is how much love and preparation you put into it that will make it special and memorable.

Join me, not as a fan of Sylvia, but as one of the 104 million Filipinos, including the noble OFWs around world proud of the way we live, we eat and see our lives with silver lining.

Streaming at @CasaNieves.TV on Facebook and YouTube starting December 25, 2018 at exactly 12:01am (Philippine Time).