The anger and humanity of my ‘kumpare,’ Lino Brocka

On his 30th death anniversary, I remember how a friendship ended with a misunderstanding about political alliances

Lino Brocka behind the camera in the '70s. (Photo from Urian Anthology).

Lino Brocka as activist: He suffered poverty and tyranny, and his anger was real. (Photo from Brocka Official Facebook)

It’s been 30 years since Lino Brocka died in a car accident on May 22, 1991.

Film lovers are lucky that the cable channel Cinema One continues to show some of his classic films, among them, Ina, Kapatid, Anak which showed actors Lolita Rodriguez and Charito Solis at their best.

The parting scene between the sisters had a quiet Solis looking at Rodriguez from the window. That scene was so taut and illuminating, it bagged for Solis the Best Actress award over her closest competitor, Rodriguez.

On the other hand, Brocka’s 1970 film, Wanted: Perfect Mother, was a virtual nostalgia trip, as we saw today’s adult stars in their rare childhood roles, namely Snooky Serna, Gina Alajar, and Arnold Gamboa, among others.

Of course, we saw a younger version of Caridad Sanchez and Mary Walter and the rare appearance of the emcee for all seasons, Eddie Mercado. The film had a virginal Boots Anson-Roa paired with the once young and dashing Dante Rivero.

Indeed, today’s cineastes can have the best of National Artist Lino Brocka (the honor was given in 1997, six years after his death) not just on cable, but on YouTube, as well. We were able to savor Tubog Sa Ginto, which was a far more engrossing movie than the hit teleserye My Husband’s Lover. Here, you see a young Eddie Garcia making it with the younger Mario O’Hara, to the shock of his son played by Jay Ilagan.

Some years back, Brocka was given a special tribute by Cinema One with a pilot episode of a talk show Inside Cinema Circle, aptly called “Mga Anak ni Brocka,” hosted by Boy Abunda. Gathered for this occasion were Brocka’s proteges Phillip Salvador, Bembol Roco, Rio Locsin, and Chanda Romero, among others.

What the talk show revealed was that Brocka got the best performances from these actors who happened to be close to the director. Roco recalled he was a rookie when he was tapped for the lead role in Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag, after a chubby Ilagan was eased out from the part at the last minute.

But with the magic of Brocka, Roco recalled how he was able to summon the best that he could give to the part even with his then non-existent theater and film credentials.

The talk show became a veritable teleserye, as Roco became very emotional and cried recalling what a wonderful person Brocka was and a first-rate director. This was echoed by Locsin and Romero, who revealed they didn’t know they could act until Brocka came along and gave them self-confidence.

‘The last time we saw each other after we patched up our differences, Lino kissed me on my lips in full view of construction workers…He loved me, he said, and I told him, I love you, too’—Philip Salvador

But the most revealing recollection was from Salvador, who appeared in such landmark Brocka films like Jaguar, Bona, and Orapronobis, among others.

Salvador said Brocka was not just a director to him. He was also a big brother and probably a special friend. “I loved him and I love his family,” he declared.

To be sure, they had their share of misunderstanding. Salvador recalled: “The last time we saw each other after we patched up our differences, Lino kissed me on my lips in full view of construction workers in the neighborhood. He loved me, he said, and I told him, I love you, too. It didn’t occur to me that he would soon die and leave us forever.”

I connected with Lino Brocka in 1970 when I saw his film, Tubog Sa Ginto. I reviewed the film for our Manuel L. Quezon University (MLQU) college publication, The Quezonian, and sent him a copy in the office of Lea Productions, then somewhere in Escolta, Manila.

We lost touch in the mid-’70s, when I was assigned in Albay to work for a government information agency. When I left my government job in 1975, my freelance writing resumed. I joined Manila Bulletin as correspondent, contributed to Rod ReyesCelebrity Magazine and Jullie Yap Daza’s People Magazine, and later turned to the Times Journal as contributor to the lifestyle page, then edited by Thelma San Juan.

But in Albay, when I saw off the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) president Lucrecia Kasilag, I caught a glimpse of Brocka boarding the same flight to Manila.

It never occurred to me then that they would both end up National Artists (in music and film, respectively).

It was during my freelancing days in the late ’70s that I finally met Brocka. He was one of the showbiz personalities assigned to me by the late Ricky Lo, then working for Expressweek.

Film poster of Brocka film, ‘Inay’

By that time, I was increasingly drawn to the filmmaker with his output, Maynila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Jaguar and Inay, among others. My first interview with him took place in his Roosevelt house in Quezon City, near the Pantranco bus station.

Even as he talked about his early life in Pilar, Sorsogon, where he was born (yes, Lino was a Bicolano), what surprised me was that we admired the same writer passionately.

“I love Kerima Polotan,” he said. “One time I saw her doing a lecture at Fort Santiago, and I always catch myself saying, ‘I love you Ma’am Kerima.’”

Then I told him, “Lino, I have a second daughter. I will name her Kerima. Will you be her godfather?” He instantly said yes.

It was during this time that I would never miss premiere nights of his films. Arriving from Cannes where his films found new audiences, he would tell me he had clippings I could use in my articles. At that time, he had left his Roosevelt home and settled somewhere else in Quezon City.

By then, I was always watching not just his films but also his theater productions. I would see him rehearse in the Far Eastern University (FEU) theater a new production of Larawan (the Pilipino version of Nick Joaquin’s Portrait of the Filipino as an Artist), with a cast that included Lolita Rodriguez, Charito Solis, Phillip Salvador and Butz Aquino, among others.

My last Brocka theater treat was a Pilipino version of Tennessee Williams’ Flores Para Los Muertos staged at Philamlife Theater and starring Laurice Guillen.

Before this, I saw him in the recital of Spanish diva Montserrat Caballé at the Manila Metropolitan Theater. It was in this concert that he threatened to throw ice cream at Rolando Tinio for looking down on his film, Inay. At the time, the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) jury, of which Tinio was a member, was raving over the Celso Ad. Castillo film Burlesk Queen starring Vilma Santos.

The art and life of Brocka is summed up in the CCP publication, Lino Brocka: The Artist and His Times, edited by the late Mario A. Hernando.

My review of Inay (which came out in the late ’70s issue of the Bicol Chronicle) was in it.

I asked Mario (Hernando) how he found the Bicol paper. “It’s in his scrapbook. He kept your writeups of his film in that scrapbook.”

In the elections of the mid-’80s, when Marcos ran against Cory Aquino, I was working with the media office of the CCP. The CCP ran a one-page ad endorsing Marcos.

The perfect film team: Brocka, Nora Aunor and Lolita Rodriguez (Photo from Brocka Official Facebook)

In that paid ad, the following names appeared as endorsers of Marcos: Nora Aunor, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, and names of CCP officials and employees, including me.

At the time, I was everything but political. I joined CCP for one big reason: I wanted to see all CCP shows at no expense.

A friend said Brocka was furious upon seeing that ad and seeing my name in it. I wanted to explain that whether I liked Marcos or not, all CCP employees were on that list of ‘endorsers’

Brocka saw that ad. A friend said Brocka was furious upon seeing that ad and seeing my name in it. I wanted to explain that whether I liked Marcos or not, all CCP employees were on that list of “endorsers”—as courtesy to the CCP founder, who happened to be the First Lady.

In the special screening of Maynila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag at the CCP Little Theater in the late ’80s, I followed Brocka to the CCP parking lot and tried to explain why my name appeared in that ad.

He would have none of it. His face was cold, and it was his signal that there was no way he could forget that incident.

 “Lino please,” I implored. I tarried at the parking until he boarded his car. I went home knowing a special friendship had ended.

I saw him last while crossing Shaw Boulevard in Pasig after a kidnap scene in Bayan Ko Kapit Sa Patalim starring Gina Alajar, among others.

My daughter and I were aboard a jeepney, and I called out and said, “Lino, this is your goddaughter Kerima.” I pointed to my daughter. He smiled wanly as he looked at us.

That was the last time I saw him.

In May 1991, writer-publicist Norma Japitana asked me if I would like to come to the Palawan shoot of another Brocka film. “I am off to the island with my daughters,” I told Norma.

On May 22, 1991 in Catanduanes, after my daughters had taken a dip in the Sto. Domingo River after swimming by the sea, we learned about Brocka’s death in a car accident the previous night. I told my then 12-year-old daughter Kerima that her godfather had passed away.

By then, I remember the Lino who’d bring me home after an interview and make a confession about his love for Kerima Polotan.

Many things come to mind. There was his love-hate relationship with his Sorsogon aunts, and the hatred he kept for his own mother who, he discovered later, was once the mistress of a town policeman. In the beginning, Lino would not listen to his poor mother, who could have done it in an effort to survive.

Another contributor to the CCP Brocka book noted that in the film director’s last days, he was still furious about friends he used to hold dear, and still hurting friends who had cared for him.

It was then that I fully saw Brocka’s humanity, his passion, his non-compromising principles, and his hatred for relatives who maltreated his family in that Sorsogon island.

His kind of anger was something very real to me….It was not for himself, but for the people he truly cared about

After a Cecile Licad concert in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, I took a bus to nearby San Jose town, where Brocka grew up after leaving his Sorsogon hometown. Two years ago, I found myself seeing lawyer Rudy Tacorda for a libel case filed by a Negrense pianist. It was for an article written for the Inquirer Magazine 28 years ago.

After introducing myself to the lawyer and explaining my case, Atty. Tacorda told me, “Did you know I was the lawyer of Lino Brocka when he was detained for attending that anti-Marcos rally? I had to work on his bail. I remember Lino refused to be bailed out when he realized I worked only for his release without his companions, including Behn Cervantes. Lino asked me to get an advance from Mother Lily (Monteverde) so he could also bail out the rest of his detainee-friends.”

Brocka (far left) during his UP Diliman college days with Behn Cervantes (middle). (Pablo Tariman file photos)

By the way, the lawyer said, did you know Brocka had a girlfriend during his years in the San Jose public high school in Nueva Ecija? (The lawyer’s roots are Catanduanes, and he is a cousin of the late actor Dindo Fernando.)

I said, “Small world.”

Until then, it seemed there was no way time could isolate me from Lino. We even ended up having a common lawyer.

Even for that one unfortunate incident that caused our falling out, I remember many years of edifying moments in the theater watching Brocka films.

I also remember him in many street demonstrations and always, his kind of anger was something very real to me. It was not a personal outburst. It was not for himself, but for the people he truly cared about.

I can feel the intensity of that private anger over his mother and the relatives who treated him badly.

On this 30th anniversary of his death today, I fully understood why Brocka had to be a filmmaker. And an activist.

About author


He’s a freelance journalist who loves the opera, classical music and concerts, and who has had the privilege of meeting many of these artists of the performing arts and forging enviable friendships with them. Recently he’s been drawing readers to his poems in Facebook, getting known as the ‘Bard of Facebook.’

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