Dear Tito Johnny

Juan Marasigan Feleo
(1948 - 2009)

Dear Tito Johnny,

When I learned that you had only a few days left with us, I tried to write to you. "Tried" being the operative word; I couldn't get anything down, nothing seemed to be enough. I find this odd, considering I am now overcome with so many things I never got to say. But I suppose this is better late than never, so I will begin with "thank you."

You were the first person who taught me what it meant to be real and unapologetic. I remember the first day of our acting workshop in MDAFI, where you talked about social conventions and how people never really give true answers anymore. How people say "I'm fine," when in truth, it means nothing and says nothing about the person responding to the question, "How do you feel?"

You sat quietly in a corner as we worked, as we figuratively stripped down and let ourselves be more vulnerable than we ever allowed ourselves to be. We felt safe with you, and in every moment following that workshop, I felt safe every time I was around you. And it wasn't because you were such a large, intimidating, and at times forbidding presence that could fend off all harm. I was always safe with you because I always knew your heart was looking out for mine.

The first time I ever directed anything -- a little short film with Ina and Marc that, to be honest, I'm not particularly proud of (for no other reason than personal lack) -- you came up to me right after the screening. You grabbed me in one of your huge, classic, Johnny-style hugs and growled, "Congrats, baby!" I knew you were a man of high standards and impeccable taste, and although what I'd done wasn't groundbreaking, I was assured that I was starting somewhere. (In fact, many occasions after, you would tell me to submit for Cinemalaya, to just try.)

I also remember when we were working on Hush Hush, and while we were waiting for Tita Laurice and the others, you sat with me in the library and told me your issues with regards to the look of some things. (Also known as the infamous dislike for the wall color.) You critiqued my work, and you told me what my weaknesses were. I think you were expecting me to defend myself, because when I agreed with you on the weaknesses you pointed out, you burst out in surprised laughter. We spent a good hour jamming, with you giving me suggestions before we got carried away into other subjects of conversation.

When we did Labing Labing, that was the only time I ever saw your raw anger, that day at the hospital. I remember standing in the rain, making puppy dog faces at you while Ina asked you to come back to the set. And how quiet we were when you decided to come back even though you were still obviously upset. I think you knew that I was scared you might somehow be angry at me personally, because when we were alone together, you smiled at me and said, "Naka-makeup ka ba? Parang gumaganda ka a."

All the times I saw you or heard from you outside of anything really film-related were just as impressionable upon me. Whether it was you poking fun at my heels during the Cinemalaya opening, asking for a little lambing, replying to my Facebook status to ask me if I was in love or feeling gassy, or sharing your general frustrations with the English language ("Putanginang English yan, kung magaling lang talaga ako diyan ang dami ko nang nagawa"), you always left a mark on me. I always felt as though each moment I got to share with you was special, for the sole reason that it was you I shared it with.

I came to see you exactly one week ago. This was to be our last moment together. I'd seen sick people before -- relatives and grandparents -- just as weak as you were, hooked up to machines and struggling the way you did. But something was different; the air was different. I felt I was in the presence of someone else, someone who was waiting to take you someplace where the pain no longer mattered. This palpable, sand-running-out-of-the-hourglass moment made me realize, that although you were no longer very responsive, it was enough for me to be there with you. To ease your pain however slightly with a sponge bath and a song, to let you know the simple truth, that I love you. True enough, less than 12 hours later, Mama Mary took you home.

I'd like to give some sort of mature response to all this, but to be completely honest, I am heartbroken. We are heartbroken. We are grateful to have had you in our lives, but it is quite a loss to walk the rest of the way without you. And so maybe, instead of finding a way to just up and numb the pain, we will let your memory be our muse. You believed in all of us above and beyond our belief in ourselves, and we will not let that go to waste. You will be more present than you've ever been, because let's face it: there is no wind strong enough to knock down the sheer tenacity of one Juan Feleo. Not even death.

So until we meet again, you will be in every frame we film, every word we write, every emotion we portray, every note we sing. You will be in the air and in the sky, in our future children's eyes and in each laugh we allow ourselves to share. You will be in our hearts, most especially in mine. So good night, dear friend. Until we meet again.

Much love,


Pepeng On The Horizon

It was barely days since Ondoy came and tore up the floorboards (quite literally) when we caught news of Pepeng on the horizon. We barely had enough time to digest what had gone down, let alone heal. People were (and are) still cooped up in evacuation centers, waiting for food and a chance to start over. I mean, my Gmail background was still cloudy for heaven’s sake.

Pepeng was expected to open up (pardon my French) a shitstorm of terror on Manila, but we were, quite luckily, spared for the most part. But Pepeng, being a typhoon in search of a place to park, sadly and inevitably went elsewhere. It came and stayed for days, hovering over Northern Luzon, which may be in worse shape now than we were in after Ondoy.

There have been landslides in Benguet, claiming the lives of at least 148 people. Crops and plantations are buried under gallons of floodwater. People are, once again, stranded atop their roofs, waiting for rescue. Passages to certain stricken areas, like Pangasinan, are so blocked that delivering relief goods is next to impossible. The death toll is too frightening to even imagine.

And yes, it is moving, seeing trucks picking up rubber boats to send to that area of the Philippines and hearing about organizations in Manila mobilizing as quickly as possible to send goods to Northern Luzon. It is moving to see that the sharing, the love, the goodness born in the Ondoy aftermath didn’t stop at the two-week mark. It has instead become a movement, and people who are part of it are ensuring Pepeng survivors experience the bayanihan spirit as well.

But if I may be so frank, I have to admit that I'm completely heartbroken.

I have hope for things, for this nation, despite many of the terrible things we've seen. We are a good people, a beautiful people, with big hearts and the incredible ability to laugh almost anything off. But it’s as though we’re a country trapped in some cycle of abuse. If it’s not Asian neighbors sticking bayonets into our children or Castillan padres of old devirginizing our young women, it’s shamelessly vulgar and corrupt politicians feasting on our misery or unconscionable land developers looking to make a fast buck. And now, to top it all off, we have Mother Nature playing her own game of Russian roulette. It seems like every lesson we learn comes at the price of something much too great.

And the fact is, even though I do believe in God and I do have faith, any answer to a why in our current situation is something I don’t have. I am looking for answers, but I feel like there isn't any that would ever be good enough. So I am stuck with frustration, anger, sadness, and the awareness that we deserve so much better than this.

Every Pinoy deserves to have a home, to have at least 3 square meals a day, to have a proper bathroom. Every Pinoy deserves to have a good education, to have healthcare that actually allows him to be treated when he is sick. Every Pinoy deserves to have a government that will fight for his being instead of casually robbing him blind. Every Pinoy deserves to have more than his basic physical needs and basic rights, but to have a deep-rooted understanding of who we are as a nation, what we can be, and what exactly it is we deserve. Every Pinoy deserves to have a life; a life bent on more than just surviving, but actually living.

And the strange thing is, even though my heart is positively slashed and pummeled, I still cling to the tiniest speck of hope. (Blame my youth; many before you have done so.)

Once the immediate need for food, water, and a place to sleep have been addressed, we are inevitably faced with the question of how to approach life again. And as much as I would rather the circumstances were different, we have an opportunity here: do we pick up where we left off or do we learn from our mistakes and start fresh? Because oddly enough, in the midst of all this disaster and death, I really do believe somewhere in here stands a clean slate.

Which makes me think: so what if I'm heartbroken. I'm sure you are too. What matters now is what we do with it. I say let's do what we should've done a long time ago and participate. Let us care beyond the relief, let's care until life is brought back into our sleeping nation. This chance may never come again.

So go on. Pull up your socks, Philippines. We have a hell of a lot of work to do.


Original Photo Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.


Katrina, meet Ondoy.

Every time it rains, I think about the homeless. We are constantly surrounded by the poor, and the streets of Manila flood quite easily during typical rainfall, so it is rather common to hear about lives of the homeless being claimed by flash floods in Manila. It's almost an everyday sort of sadness for a lot of people who live here.

But last Saturday, 26 September 2009, we experienced disaster on a scale that we could never have imagined. The onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy (internationally known as "Ketsana") chose no class, no one group of people to victimize. It didn't matter if you were in the more privileged areas of Loyola Grand Villas and Magallanes, or deep within Cainta, Rizal. The water came for nearly everyone.

It is said that this has been the worst flood in the last 40 years, including Hurricane Katrina. It seems almost unbelievable, considering the footage we've seen from the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. But the truth is sharp and painful.

In one of the most affected areas, Marikina, stands a bridge well over 30 feet above the Marikina river. Ondoy caused floods that went over that bridge, as well as floods in other areas that refuse to go down. Water rushed into homes and drove residents to their rooftops, where many still sit and wait for rescue. I can only imagine what happened to those who didn't even have shelter, if they even had a chance at surviving.

Every minute gives birth to so many insane, impossibly true stories, such as those of University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Medical Center (more casually known around here as UERM), where water rushed to the third floor of the hospital. The parking lot was filled with oxygen tanks that leaked or busted open, and so no candles could be lit for fear of an explosion. In the middle of the dark, their only source of light was their penlights.

Then there is the story of Corazon Palomar, stuck on the roof of her home in Pasig with thirteen other people. She was 84, and recently had a heart bypass. They were stranded for 2 days, shivering from the cold, beyond parched and starving as they waited for rescue. A neighbor of theirs managed to salvage one hard-boiled egg which all of them shared. Corazon's daughter, Lily, held her mother to keep her warm. Lily didn't partake of the egg, but instead gave her share to the near-hopeless Corazon.

This is the story we hear over and over. The story that we normally never totally relate to, because disasters usually stand at a comfortable distance from us. The story we normally watch on the news, as seen in human interest pieces. But now it's become the story of our brothers, sisters, friends, children, grandparents, husbands, wives, and lovers, if not our own. It's hit closest to home for every single person I know.

The rescue is slow, undermanned, and disorganized. Help is severely needed all over Metro Manila. And yet what is extremely blessed about this most terrible time is that no one is sitting around waiting for someone else to do something. One of the most touching things I've heard is that the Ateneo De Manila University Rowing Team used toy boats to penetrate Provident Village, one of the most badly flooded areas, to distribute relief goods to those stranded on their roofs.

In this spirit, schools and private organizations have been running relief operations and donation centers since Sunday afternoon. Gawad Kalinga has not only evacuated its own, but is reaching out to surrounding underprivileged communites who weren't as lucky to have GK's devoted rescuers. Companies like Petron and San Miguel have lent their choppers for rescue and relief. Philippine Airlines has decided to airlift relief goods for free.

We have local film stars who swam in the flood or used a surfboard in the thick of the storm just to pull people to safety; one even used a couch as a flotation device to aid him in his rescue mission. Real estate powerhouse Divine Lee has committed her time to reaching the poorest ones who were affected by the typhoon, the ones who lost the little they had to begin with. These are also the stories that surround us now, and they are the ones we hold on to for hope.

The tragedy we find ourselves in the midst of is great, and yet the love demonstrated so freely in these times is the blessing we reap. We aren't waiting for answers as to how the 800 million peso budget for disaster relief could have been spent on the President's foreign trips, or how the NDCC ever believed that having only 13 rubber boats in their possession would be enough, even in a small-scale disaster. We aren't waiting on our government to give our people their due.

Instead, we are taking what we have and whatever we can possibly spare for the sake of our brothers. We are on our feet, we are on the road, we are in the water, and we are wherever help is needed the most. We are steeped in the drive of the bayanihan spirit, the love for our fellow man, and we hope that you are too. I ask that you join us in whatever way you can. Your prayers, donations, and participation will go a long way.

Stay safe and dry, everyone. God bless the Philippines.


  • For more information on Typhoon Ondoy and to submit names of those still in need of rescue, click here.
  • To submit information on missing persons, click here.
  • For local donation drop-offs in the Philippines, click here.
  • Donate to your local Red Cross today. Philippine Red Cross is also accepting paypal donations through the email address give@redcross.org.ph. (Get started here.) Every bit counts.
  • A lot of news has been coming in, for those who want to be part of the retweeting madness, follow me!
  • Photo sources are as follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. All photos used in this entry are property of their respective owners.


The Thesis Film

I may very well be the poster child for ningas cogon. It's pathetic that I have only two posts to my name, after making such a big deal about what this blog was going to mean to me.

In my defense, however, I've been pretty busy lately. Things at le film school have been getting serious, and I am preparing to shoot my very own short film sometime during the last week of October. That being the case, I have accepted as many projects as I can handle. Currently, I am juggling three -- a layout gig, a short film, and a kind of fashion event -- as well as running around putting together a small online garage sale that opens within the week. In short, I've been driving myself crazy trying to get the funds to make my thesis film happen. Hopefully, my sanity pops up soon.

And just so we're clear, this isn't going to be some long-winded complaint. In fact, there is a part of me that dreads the moment my financial crisis is solved. Not that I'm appealing to the masochistic side of my personality or anything, but just that when funding is no longer an issue, I have nowhere to look but at my directing.

And this is what it is; this is the process, at least for many of us. The mind-numbing terror, the tension, the bleeding of whatever's inside of you, the making sure you're able to communicate perfectly. The pressure to ensure your story is fleshed out in picture and not just a summary of things inside your brain. To actually create something complete and personal and moving in some way.

A friend of mine is in the process of editing some work, and we both shared our heartbreaks regarding our respective pieces. I was lamenting the fact that a person I love dearly misunderstood the script I wrote, while my friend was trying to get past some hard criticism and serious feelings of self-doubt.

We talked about how risky it was to direct, to even step up to the plate and just try. Directing is about putting your heart out there. You can't expect to tell a story and have people respond to it in the way you hope them to without first getting naked. Investing. Trusting. Hoping.

And it is for that same reason, that vulnerability, why so many of us love this kind of life so much. It's the fear and feeling like you're going to throw up that makes it so great. Because it's that feeling, that sense of knowing that you're on the edge of your own sanity trying to piece together something that (at the very least) makes sense, that shows how much of ourselves we put on the line. Because that's what people understand.

You can make a film entirely in Chinese and present it to a North American audience without subtitles. If there is heart, it will translate, even in the absence of what may be literary genius. And when we succeed in making that connection, that is the reward. That is the juice. That is what makes all the torture absolutely worth the terror. That is the bliss.

I am young in this industry, and I can't say that what I think is most certainly the case. I do, however, recall the films of my childhood: The Sound of Music, The Little Mermaid, Gerard Depardieu's Cyrano de Bergerac. I may not know them all word for word, or the exact sequence in which all events unfolded, but I remember how they made me feel. I was happy, I was scared, I was amused, I was sad. I was wholly embraced by characters I, ironically enough, only really knew in still motion.

I don't suppose that whatever I will create will be so important in the eyes of the world, or that it will be anywhere near perfect. What I hope is that it does touch someone, and that at least the people I have written it for -- my family, most especially my mother -- will see that it is my love out there in moving pictures. That's more than enough for me. That's not only the juice; it is the cherry on top of the cherry on top of the cherry.

And so I go back to my real life, scrambling around trying to get this little film made. Because as much as I don't need it to be Oscar-worthy, I do need me some cherries.


The WYAAP DDD, the flu, and me.

I know I said I would be writing. But since the last WYA (that is World Youth Alliance) project, the Decade of Dignity and Development Conference last July 22 to 25, I have been down with the flu. Apparently, my body has given up after a month of abuse and semi-torture. While I have somehow managed to evade carpal tunnel, I'm hardly ever awake or un-dizzy enough to compose anything more than what is now considered Twitter-coherent.

Instead, I will do the cop out thing and post three videos I made during the conference. The funny thing here is that, while I am a film student, I am hardly an editor. But necessity is the mother of learning, so iMovie and I became friends (or is it lovers) very very quickly.

Two of these are the daily recap of the previous day, and the other is a thank you video from the conference organizers to the participants. All videos and photographs were taken with Canon digital cameras, and all editing was done on my trusty black Mac as well as with the remaining shreds of my sanity. It was a great great great 3 days. :)

Enjoy, my friends!


The Elusive First Entry

I generally dislike writing the first entry of any new blog, because so much is expected of it. There are unasked questions that you need to address: who are you, why are you here, do you deserve to be read, can you even write, and now a snappy welcome from you (the writer) to me (the poor soul who's reading this crap).

Often enough, you can just be lame and say, "Here's the first entry. I plan to write about/post pictures of/jot down my thoughts here" then go into detail about exactly what you intend to do with this all-powerful blog of yours. You can be even lamer and put some sort of statement or quote that's supposed to pique the interest of potential readers, but obviously it's just a way of getting past the tension of the very first entry.

Fact is, I have kept a total of three blogs in my life: one when I was in high school and literally just wrote about what I did during the day (it was inane and has been deleted), one when I was in Ateneo and became overly enthusiastic about Jesus' second coming (I know; I cringe a lot when I read it again), and one when I began film school and just started writing about things that really mattered to me.

A friend of mine became a fan of my writing when he followed my third blog (thank God he was not around for the first). He was very insistent that I should go public. I made some stupid joke about being straight and therefore not in the closet, and therefore not having anything to go public about. He didn't laugh.

The truth is, I was actually deathly afraid. I am a writer; it is who I am and have always been. It is not, for me, a simple answer to the ubiquitous "what do you do" question new acquaintances are so fond of asking. Even though I am not established nor am I frequently published, I am protective of my work, and it takes a lot for me to share things in a space where absolutely anyone can access it.

And yet, here we are. So what's changed?

Yesterday, during Sunday lunch, my sister Zeka told me about a new column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. My family being the opinionated brood that we are, we began talking about newspapers and columnists and the fluff writing some people seem to favor.

My dad brought up a certain writer whose work I consider pretentious and much too wordy. I cringed and said, "The way they write, it's like they just like hearing themselves talk. It's like they read it back to themselves out loud as soon as they're done and then pat themselves on the back and say 'Ang galing galing ko talaga.'" My dad laughed out loud then said to me, "You know, you're wasting your talent. You should be writing." My sisters agreed.

I, of course, made a joke about starting a daily e-mail blast to the Inquirer Opinion Editor with my thoughts of the day until he gave me a column of my own. But the truth is, that comment made me want to jump up and do something about it as quickly as I could.

I don't know what it was or how it happened, but for once, I felt the faith. I'm not talking about Catholicism or another round of charismatic church behavior. I'm talking about people who've read my work and seem to believe in me and my ability much more than I do myself. And I'm not sure if I'm misreading the signs, but maybe that just means that there are things I have to say, and those are things that resonate with others. So as scary and daunting as it is, maybe that's enough to at least try.

So here I am, trying. Welcome to le blog.