When Brillante Mendoza of CenterStage Productions thought of producing a film about Siquijor, a small island in Region 7 (Central Visayas), he never imagined that it would escalate into a controversial and sensitive topic for some of our kababayans.
Called Isla del Fuego or the "Island of Fire" by the Spanish before, Siquijor is known as the mystic island because of the mambabarang (witch doctors), mananambals (faith healers), and other horror elements associated with the island.
Direk Dante (Brillante's nickname) told PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) that his intention for doing the film Siquijor: Mystic Island was actually to promote tourism in the island.
"Sabi ng vice-governor [Carl Gahinhin], baka daw magkaroon ng misinterpretation ang mga tao about Siquijor. Yung mga mambabarang...Ang sabi ko naman, bakit ang Capiz ginawa pa nga nilang tourist attraction iyon? Now, they're very famous for the aswangs.
"Sabi ko nga sa kanila, ‘To tell you honestly, hindi naman ganun kaganda ang beaches dito. Parang kalaban na natin d'yan ang Boracay, Palawan and there are nice beaches in Cebu. Sabi ko, mas maganda nga kung i-promote natin ito sa ganitong klaseng lugar—mas maraming pupunta ditong foreigners."
In his March 7 interview during the CineVita film festival at the University of Santo Tomas, Direk Dante clarified that he did not receive a formal complaint from the local government officials of Siquijor.
"Wala naman kaming natanggap at that time but we were alarmed kasi yung mga contact ko dun, tinawagan ako at sinabi na nagmi-meeting yung provincial board members. Inunahan ko sila. Sinulatan ko and I wrote: ‘Is there a problem?' Sabi ko, if there's a problem, ihihinto ko na. I'm willing naman to let go the title and change it to another title. But I did not receive any letter from them."
"I called them again last month and I said I will proceed if I don't receive any letter from you since it means that it's okay to go on with the title. Title lang naman ang issue because the film could have happened anywhere. Hindi naman specific na ganito yung nangyayari sa Siquijor."
Siquijor: Mystic Island was finally screened at theaters starting yesterday, March 14. It is about a production team of the horror TV show Hilakbot, which goes to Siquijor to shoot the mysteries of the island.
The Hilakbot team is composed of executive producer Doreen (Angel Aquino), the director and Doreen's ex-boyfriend Xavier (Ian Veneracion), host ng show and Xavier's girlfriend Alexandra (Assunta de Rossi), cameraman Carlo (Yul Servo), trainee production assistant Miguel (Coco Martin) and the newbie writer-researcher Jake (Sid Lucero).
A local coordinator named Domeng (Simon Ibarra) brings the production crew to meet a mambobolo, an herbal doctor who cures victims of witchcraft. The production team ends up staging an exorcism ritual wherein a possessed victim gets beaten up by the mambobolo.
Siquijor: Mystic Island has received a B rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board and was given a PG-13 rating, without cuts, by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.