#NeverAgain: High Five Essential Filipino Martial Law Movies

by Matthew Escosia
SEA Wave - Martial Law Films
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This year marks yet another pivotal moment in Philippine history. The son of a former dictator is gunning for the top government spot, lawlessness continues to thrive in places we least expect, and today, we are once again honoring yet another anniversary of the People Power revolution.

This year is a crucial period for us to learn about the history that has long haunted the country as the elections are fast approaching. Philippine cinema is rich in films that not only inform the public, but also fight for truth and justice. In this edition of SEA Wave’s High Five, we look at essential movies about Martial Law.

“Imelda” (2003) by Ramona Diaz

Ramona Diaz’s Imelda is a revealing look at the life of Imelda Marcos, the former First Lady and widow of the late President Ferdinand Marcos. The documentary goes into her many controversies, particularly the lavish lifestyle she embraces up to this day. This film remains a more intimate picture than Lauren Greenfield’s The Kingmaker, which is a more recent exploration of Imelda Marcos and her family.

“Respeto” (2017) by Treb Montreras II

Respeto merges the horrors of Ferdinand Marcos’ rule under Martial Law and President Rodrigo Duterte’s current war on drugs by following the two lives of an old playwright and a young rapper. Exploring the culture of violence and underground hip-hop, Treb Montreras’ debut film won Best Picture in Cinemalaya among many accolades in 2017. To this day, it stands as one of the best films telling the realities of the country’s darkest moments.

Batas Militar (1997) by Jeannette Ifurung

Batas Militar 1997. Color/109 minutes; with English Subtitles. A Production of the Eggie Apostol Foundation from Citizen Jake on Vimeo.

Batas Militar is an essential watch. For a while, it was regularly screened on public television to commemorate People Power revolution anniversary and is even a staple watch at some educational institutions. The film extensively documents the events and atrocities of Martial Law and is available for public viewing online.

“Dekada ‘70” (2002) by Chito S. Roño

Dekada ‘70 is an accessible retelling of the ‘70s Martial Law era told through the perspective of a middle class nuclear family slowly falling apart. Based on the political novel by Lualhati Bautista, the film never shies away from uncovering the period’s many brutal realities and continues to be an essential watch for families and students alike.

“Maynila Sa Kuko ng Liwanag” (1975) by Lino Brocka

Lino Brocka’s seminal film set during Martial Law is widely considered as the greatest Filipino film of all-time and has been lauded by several filmmakers all over the globe for its painful and harrowing tale about a young man crawling his way out of the hellish streets of Manila. Based on the novel by Edgardo Reyes, the film shows the dire social conditions of the working class under martial rule.

What other films about Martial Law can you recommend? Share them with us in the comments section below!

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