Cinemalaya Best Film tackles poverty, violence through rap

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 31) — Critically acclaimed hip hop drama "Respeto" tackles the war on drugs on screen, but the crew also witnessed it behind the scenes.

Director Treb Monteras said that during one of their filming days, an anti-drug operation in Pandacan, Manila where they were shooting a scene, was ongoing.

The police had their guns drawn and were chasing a suspect, but did not shoot, Monteras said.

"Pag-cut ko, nagsigawan yung mga tao, nagtakbuhan, may tinotokhang pala sa likod. Mga pulis pala iyon," Monteras told CNN Philippines' The Source in an interview on Thursday.

"Ang nangyari, naglabas ng baril ang mga pulis, and then yung target nila nagtago sa likod ng isang matanda. And then sinabing, 'Hindi ako, hindi ako,' doon nagturo."

[Translation: Just after I cut, people shouted and ran. There was a Tokhang operation. The police where there. They brought out their guns and their target hid behind an old person. He kept saying, 'It's not me, it's not me,' pointing in another direction.]

"Respeto" depicts the world of freestyle rap battles, which enjoy popularity across social classes. But that's not all the movie is about.

The film follows the unlikely friendship of Hendrix, an aspiring rapper who has to navigate through his reality of crime and poverty, and Doc, an old poet and martial law veteran.

"Part siya ng mga nagiging napapanahon na film, kasi ngayon... kahit saan ka tumingin, may nagra-rap eh. So kahit sa slums, or kahit sa mga konyohan, may nagra-rap," said rapper and lead actor Abra, who plays Hendrix.

"Kasabay pa siya ng panahon na nagka-Tokhang... Parang siyang isang malupit na kung anong nangyayari ngayon, yung sitwasyon ng bansa natin ang pinapakita ngayon," Abra added.

[Translation: It's a timely film... wherever you look, people are rapping. Whether you're in the slums or in upscale communities, someone raps. And it coincides with Tokhang... It's like one cool take on what is happening in the country today.]

 

The concept was partially inspired by the friendship between rapper Gloc 9 and National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, Monteras said.

The drama film ran from August 5 to 13 at the independent film festival Cinemalaya, where it bagged the Best Film, Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Audience Choice Awards.

Monteras said the residents told him the police operations were common in their community, and they had mixed feelings about it.

"Tinanong ko ang mga tao doon, so ano ang feeling, palagi kayong tinotokhang? Sa iba, 'Okay yan, para mabawasan ang mga adik dito sa amin kasi magulo talaga yan e.' May mga tao talaga na ayaw nila. May mga tao naman na natatakot sila kasi maraming mga inosente na nabibiktima," said Monteras.

[I asked the people there, so how does it feel to have Tokhang happen here often? Some said, 'It's okay, so we have less addicts and less trouble.' But there are people who don't like it. Some are afraid because innocent people get victimized.]

Tokhang is the name of police operations under President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial war on drugs. Originally derived from "katok-hangyo," the phrase translates to 'knock and negotiate,' but has since been associated with drug raids by the police which turn bloody.

The government says more than 3,000 dead from police operations since the anti-drug campaign was launched in July last year. The number does not include deaths under investigation or those killed vigilante-style.

"Itong mga kabataan ngayon, ganoon talaga ang nangyayari — they use music to escape kung ano ang nangyayari sa community nila ngayon. Of course, with all the killings, with all the violence that's happening, parang kailangan nila ng ibang gawin," Monteras said.

[Translation: This really happens to the youth today — they use music to escape what happens in their communities. With all the killings, all the violence that's happening, they need something else to do.]

The film is not only about earning respect, but giving it too.

"Ang mensahe lang talaga dito is, hindi natin kailangan ng karahasan para masolusyunan ang problema ng ating bayan. Lagi nga namin sinasabi — huwag natin kalimutan ang respeto natin sa sarili, respeto natin sa kapwa, and yung respeto natin sa karapatang pantao," said Monteras.

[Translation: The message here is we don't need violence as a solution to our country's problems. We always say, let's not forget our respect for ourselves, our respect for others, and our respect for human rights.]

"Respeto" shows in theaters nationwide on September 20.