noraWILFREDO O. PASCUAL,  JR. WRITES : Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti’s trailer opens with geography, a mountain range shrouded in mist, those spiritual peaks that lock the rarely seen heart of Luzon. Nueva Vizcaya is a landscape somewhat different from the southern Bicol origins of its lead actress Nora Aunor who was born in volcanic Iriga surrounded by lakes. What does Aunor make of filmmaker Mes de Guzman’s part of the world?

Playing the role of a poor, good-natured Ilocano folk healer, one of Aunor’s tasks is simple and telling. Her portly figure treads through dry shrubs and cuts through tangles of vine. She stops where the water trickles, blows one end of a long rubber tube and places it under a shallow stream. In a province threatened by the unrelenting onslaught of armed conflict, illegal logging, mining and dam projects, will water run upstream and reach home?

These mountains contain and define Mabuti’s world and we are almost certain that she will breath her last here, even as her children opt to do business in town or leave for Dubai in desperation. When she leaves the trail and makes a trip to town, her world is jolted. The killing of a rebel in a military checkpoint thrusts a bag of cash into her hands. What would she do with all that money? Who should have it? We can all diverge on what we would do if fate finds us in a similar situation, but what haunts Mabuti? And how is she haunted? The last questions are important because it unveils the seat of a hinterland’s conscience, etched in Aunor’s performance, an artist’s marvelous and earnest response to the abode of the spirits, the dry wind and the dark clouds. Beyond the question of what is right and what is wrong is a hidden worldview that is less understood and yet speaks to our modern times.

Ilocano folk healers are specialists. There are those who specialize in gynecological folk treatment, sprains and dislocations, and then there are the privileged few with supernatural powers who cure snake and dog bites. Called “mannuma,” they channel the spirits through a stone, accurately depicted in the film, which tells how far the venom has traveled in the bloodstream. Mabuti’s sanctuary after all is not completely verdant; the hills are mostly denuded and the people not all that free from toxicity. For one, we are suspicious of the village captain and all that maddening coin-counting in his office. Civilians are caught between an armed conflict. There is indolence. And dogbites. And then there is death. And more dogbites. Mabuti, like all mannumas, can never charge payment and can only accept tokens and gifts. And so what to do with this bag of cash? In a nation rocked by war and corruption, what money does to Mabuti and what she does with it can provide a critical if not interesting parable to our times.

De Guzman’s tale, like Diablo and Of Skies and Earth, is once again grounded in masterful folk telling and local knowledge. It is charged with mystery and yet carefully paced. What I love about Mes de Guzman’s body of work, all set in Nueva Vizcaya, is how, in exploring moral questions, he combines the timeless to the temporal, the sacred to the secular, the heavenly to the mundane (Mabuti’s grand-daughter is named Kate Winslett). It is a perfect material for world-class actress Nora Aunor whose flowing career has taken the qualities of a river. From the sand dunes of Ilocos to the water-borne Badjaos of Tawi-Tawi, she is the complete vessel that transports us through our diverse landscapes and languages, the unseen realms of marginalized voices. In Mabuti, the actress does not hide the real scars on her throat that has silenced her singing voice. It’s with this shared silence that she gathers us all to experience a quiet understanding of ourselves. You touch the river of her body of work and you touch the mystery of distance and source. From waters to spiritual peaks, what more can you ask from a people’s artist?

NOTES on the author : Wilfredo O. Pascual, Jr. received the Centennial Literary Prize during the centennial celebration of the Philippine Free Press.  His story was about Filipinos leaving the country. Pascual said, “ I thought it was ironic considering that all three winners, including the other two who placed second and third, were all critical of the present administration but I thought it all made sense because we were, after all, honoring the 100th year of the Philippine Free Press.” President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo graced the awarding ceremony.
Pascual is the grand prize winner of two Carlos Palanca Awards for Essay (English) for his works Devotion (2004) and Lost in Childrensville (2007). He graduated from the University Science High School in 1984, where he won in the National Schools Press Conference. He published his novel “Sanlibong Alitaptap” at 24, while on and off schooling in UST, Faculty of Arts and Letters. He also has poems dedicated to his father, a CLSU alumnus in Agriculture and a varsity basketball player.

The Superstar and Wil

The Superstar and Wil




NEWSFLASH : MANILA, Philippines. Queen of Visayan songs Susan Fuentes has passed away after a battle with colon cancer, singer Dulce said Saturday. Fuentes died at 12:20 p.m. on Saturday, said Dulce. She was 58. “I was praying for her on the phone and assured her of the Kingdom where Jesus is waiting to welcome her home, where there’s no more sadness or pain,” said Dulce. “To everyone who helped Susan Fuentes, we thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts,” said Dulce. No member of her family was by her side when she passed away, the fellow Visayan balladeer added.  She had long been estranged from her two children. Fuentes had been living in Quezon City since 1973. Born Susan Toyogan in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte, Fuentes was the fourth of five siblings. Her father was from Bohol, her mother from Surigao.

Lusty vocals . As a singer, Fuentes’ sultry performance was noted for its “lusty vocals and emotional styling.” It was she who, in the 1970s and ’80s, originally recorded and popularized such Visayan classics as “Matud Nila” (They Say), “Gimingaw Ako” (I Feel Lonesome), “Usahay” (Sometimes), “Rosas Pandan.” She is the original singer of that beloved season staple “Miss Kita Kung Christmas.” The repertoire—ranging from Cebuano to Boholano to Ilonggo traditional airs and folk ditties—made her very popular in the Visayas and Mindanao and a novelty hit in Luzon. So popular were they that a few became theme songs for lovers who didn’t even speak the language. The poignancy was in the music, but more so if those lovers understood the lyrics, and then they would be unspeakable.

Authentic voice.The range of Fuentes’ voice was such that she could effortlessly shift from the agony of “Gimingaw Ako” to the friskiness of “Rosas Pandan.” Here is another authentic voice that’s unheard by a new generation of listeners—and neglected by audiences as soon as they’re weaned on engineered voices of warblers who believe too much in their press releases. By age five, she was already joining amateur singing contests. While still in high school, she was featured in Bisaya magazine (Cebuano-language counterpart of Liwayway) for her talent and beauty. After high school, she went to Manila, where family friend Eugenia Molina, sister of singer Merci, helped her sign up with Alpha Records. When she transferred to Jem Recording, she was billed as the Queen of Visayan Songs. Here, she released seven albums, all certified gold records in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Constantino C. Tejero and Bayani San Diego [pdi]



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