MEMORIES OF A FORGOTTEN WAR

forgottenwarThe photo above is of a film shown on a curved screen – part of the Lopez Museum‘s curved spaces which lead viewers toward areas of its current exhibit, Deleted Scenes, that deserve special attention.  The exhibit’s theme deals with information on the fringes of Filipinos’ knowledge and awareness of history, as depicted in arts and literature – the things that are easily forgotten.  The bench can only seat up to four persons, but that’s how intimate the Lopez Museum is – four of us invited bloggers were soon riveted to the scenes before us.

Memories of a Forgotten War (2001)
is a short film directed and co-produced by Sari Raissa Lluch Dalena and Camilla Benolirao Griggers. It is also a family affair, with writing and design contributions from sisters and fellow artists Gabriela Krista Lluch Dalena and Aba Lluch Dalena.  Writing credits are shared by Gabriela Krista Dalena, Camilla Griggers and Lilia Quindoza-Santiago.

The war in this case is the Philippine-American war (1899-1902).  People are aware of it only as street names or landmarks, such as Pinaglabanan Bridge (“the bridge fought over”), but are no longer aware of their stories. We remember that the Spanish-American war ended with Spain selling its colony to the US for a mere USD 20 million.  People remember only vaguely that there was a time during the First Philippine Republic that Filipinos resisted the control of its new colonial master, and its policy of Manifest Destiny.  What we remember is our Liberation from the Japanese Occupation by American forces in World War II, the glamor of Hollywood, and the now hollow claim that we speak the best English in Asia, thanks to them.

forgottenwar-02This movie takes the national and makes it personal.  The film unfolds with the narrator (Griggers, a Filipino-American college professor) retracing her Filipino roots in an attempt to establish her sense of identity.  As the American daughter of a Filipino-American mother, she was not merely searching for answers about why she and her mother were not acknowledged by her American grandfather.  She asked the questions, “What makes me American?”, “What makes me Filipino?”, and most importantly, “Why do I need to know this for myself?”  It’s a common story being asked by the people around the world whose countries are former colonies of imperial powers, that have since become ethnic melting pots.

This search is the framework for a point of view of Philippine history not commonly known, or shared.  The marriage between the narrator’s grandmother and grandfather has a parallel story to the colonial takeover of the Philippines by the United States.  It’s not as romantic as you’d like to think.  War never is.

I did not know, for instance, that there was a mass murderer named Gen. Jacob Hurd Smith who ordered the Balangiga Massacre in Samar, who made sure his army had a “take no prisoners” approach, killing everyone, even children old enough to carry a weapon.  Insurgency was a natural result of Smith’s actions and orders.

I did not know, also, that American colonial troops massacred a thousand Muslims in the volcanic crater at Bud Dajo, Jolo, Mindanao.

I wanted to weep, as our narrator’s gentle voice became somewhat stern, matter-of-fact and condemning as she described it.  But this is what happens in war.  People get drunk with power.  People die.  Does it make me angry?  Only for the moment, because this happened over a hundred years ago.  Why do we not know these things?  I know there was a movie made of the Balangiga massacre, but I did not watch it.  Maybe I should.  I want to know why the Balangiga bells are still being kept as war booty in the US and not returned to the Philippines.  They are part of OUR history. There is an interesting book out, by Rolando Borrinaga, The Balangiga Conflict Revisited.

History is written by the victors (and the powerful).  All this unpleasantness of war has led to attempts to rewrite history.  Despite overwhelming evidence, some people still claim that the Holocaust never existed.  Or that the world is flat.  So what is real?  What is true?  One needs to see other points of view in history, to best appreciate it.

Sari Dalena’s film is so apt for the Deleted Scenes exhibit.  After watching it, you will be forced to ask  yourself:  “Who am I?”, “What do I know?”  and “Why do I want to know?”

Deleted Scenes runs at the Lopez Museum from November 12, 2009 to January 9, 2010.  The Lopez Memorial Museum is at G/F Benpres Building, Exchange Road corner Meralco Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City.  For more information, you may call them at (632) 631-2417, or email them at pezseum@skyinet.net. The Lopez Museum is also on Facebook.  Become a fan today!

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