When the writ of habeas corpus (or the right of a person to undergo the dueprocess of the law prior to incarceration) was suspended during the martiallaw, individuals who gained the ire of the government mysteriously vanished.
Four presidents after, the stench that reeked out of the dictatorialadministration still lingers today. A number of leftists and critics of thegovernment have been deprived of their liberty through forced disappearances.This is the weighty social reality depicted in Joel Lamangan's Dukot(Desaparecidos).
The story begins with Junix Etrata (Allen Dizon) and his girlfriend Maricel Salvacruz(Iza Calzado) being abducted by military intelligence agents. Junix is a studentactivist who decided to dedicate all of his time to the movement. He takesrefuge in the mountains to live with the indigenous people. Maricel, on theother hand, left the movement to lead a normal life. Their captors identifiedthem as leaders of the New People's Army (NPA). In order to extract informationfrom them, they were subjected to inhumane torture and despicable harassment. Junixwas burned by cigarettes, tied down on a wooden plank and given electric shock,and his head was dunked into a huge drum of water.
One scene even reminds us of Star Cinema's Dekada '70 (the one where PioloPascual was seated on top of a block of ice naked) while others conjured upimages of the Hollywood film Rendition. Call it shock cinema if you may,but this is reality.
Meanwhile, the parents of Junix and Maricel seek the help of a human rightsgroup to look for their missing children. It's a depressing predicament for aparent to dig graves, look at dismembered body parts, and identify corpses inmorgues but they remain hopeful that their children are alive and will soon befound.
This alarming slice-of-life is juxtaposed withan emotional element that made the film more powerful. The film tends to overdosome of its dramatic scenes with slow motion, unnatural dialogue (Can youimagine a guy shouting "Mahal kita... habambuhay!" in the middle of TaftAvenue?), and an overbearing score. The drama could be a little tighter.
Luckily, the cast is competent enough to play their roles with conviction. Izais perfect for her role. Tabloid reporters will make a fuss about her ‘daring'rape scene but her performance is definitely more than that. Allen subjected himselfto the torture scenes that were shot for two straight days. In the face of suchbrutality, his character is able to stomach it all but he breaks down when hecomes face-to-face with his girlfriend. The actor-producer is able to infuse tendernessto his tough guy exterior.
Gina Alajar, who played Maricel's mother, doesn't need to prove anything.Through her role as a suffering mother crying out for justice, she reminds ushow good an actress she is. Her mannerisms and delivery of lines is incharacter 100% of the time.
With the barrage of sensationalized news headlines that come with our morningcoffee, we can't be blamed for becoming apathetic to the country's socialcondition. Sometimes, it gets hard to separate the truth from yellowjournalism. But after watching Dukot, it would be damning not to care.
Penned by Palanca awardee Bonifacio Ilagan (who also wrote The FlorContemplacion Story), this film is an account of the stories of real life desaparecidos (literally the disappearedones). Bonifacio, who is a political detainee himself, produces a timely andcourageous political thriller as a protest against forced disappearances andhuman rights violations in the Philippines.
Dukot (Desaparecidos) is adifficult film to watch but what makes it even more difficult to accept is the factthat these inhuman acts are still happening in society.
This indie film, directed by Joel Lamangan (who used to be a political prisonerhimself), will have its regular run in the Philippines starting December 2, 2009. It will be screenedin time for Human Rights Month celebration in the country.