Click on images to enlarge
* * * * * *
SATIRE ON GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION
By Jose A. Quirino
Philippines Free Press, Manila, August 29, 1959
The First Movie Commentary On Philippine Political life And Mores, “Juan Tamad Goes To Congress” Takes Pot Shots At Influence Peddlers, Grafters, Congressional Shenanigans, And Even The White Paper. Will This Wacky But Hard-Hitting Film Offend Certain Politicos?
HOT as today’s headlines is a frivolous and wacky movie that takes pot shots at congressional shenanigans, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Central Bank, the 40 percent tax on foreign exchange, ten percenters, influence peddlers, and even the White Paper.
“Juan Tamad Goes To Congress” is the first political satire of Philippine cinema. Based on an original story by Congressman Pedro A. Venida of Camarines Norte (Nacionalista), who made a name for himself as a wit through his “Nothing” and “Something” speeches in Congress, the film is set in pre-Hispanic times. But the picture is pre-Hispanic only as far as musical scoring and costumes are concerned. It is full of modernisms – racy and jazzed-up dialogue; references to “press conferences” and “influence peddlers”; practices of modern politicos (like kissing babies and jumping over fences and canals); and a streamlined, fish-tailed carabao-drawn sled a la Cadillac with the familiar No. 8 plate.
The picture’s foreword sets the mood for nonsense: “The story we are about to tell you is based on facts. Any similarity to actual persons and events is intentional. In fact, carefully planned. If there should be any resemblance to any person – living, dead or missing, conscious, unconscious or still campaigning – that’s just too bad.”
Congressman Venida, the photoplay’s author, explains the serious message behind the wackiness. “We have tried to cure the ills of our political system through sincere, honest and orthodox methods but we have obtained no results. So we resort to ridicule through this picture. If we cannot work it out, we can laugh it off.”
Incidentally, Venida believes that the funniest things are not well-rehearsed jokes but real-life faux pax, like the fumblings and bumbling of congressmen.
The film’s smart-alecky dialogues (an effective combination of Tagalog and English is supercharged with uproarious gags that twit present-day politics and politicians. “We have the best politicians that money can buy”…”The trouble with third parties is that they usually come out third in the counting of ballots”…”To be a good politician, you must first be a good actor. To be a senator would be a breeze after that.”
Aside from being a satire on graft and corruption and political ______, the film is also an indictment of the indolence of the Filipinos, which Rizal, too, bewailed. Juan Tamad or Lazy John, the main character, is a lovable but indolent scoundrel who typifies the shiftless and footloose among us. Juan’s tragedy is our tragedy. Juan, like many of us, is lazy only physically. His brain works endlessly, thinking up contraptions to lessen his daily load. He has a fatalistic but none the less cockeyed philosophy: “Everything in life is predestined. Ergo, why should I work to attain what is already mine by destiny?” This carefree outlook impels this lovable folklore character to wait under the guava tree for the fruits to fall into his mouth.
One of the costliest productions hereabouts (the picture reportedly cost P275,000, with a top business executive footing the bill). “Juan Tamad Goes To Congress,” which was filmed in Eastman color and has a cast of 3,000, is the first local picture that shows the different scenic wonders of the Philippines – the Pagsanjan Falls in Laguna, the beautiful Mayon Volcano with its peerless cone, breathtaking Tagaytay Ridge, the colorful Hundred Islands of Pangasinan, the waterfall of Magdapio, the Magat River of Nueva Vizcaya, and the Ifugao rice terraces of Mountain Province, dubbed the eighth wonder of the world.
Conceived as early as two years ago by Congressman Venida, the story was converted into a photoplay through the combined talents of rugged individualists like Carlos V. Francisco, the country’s top muralist, who acted as production designer and setting director, musical director Ariston Avelino, Manuel Conde, producer and director, who also portrayed the title role, and Jess Banguis, scriptwriter. Lending color to the picture is the Barangay dance troupe, the aggrupation that accompanied the presidential yacht Lapu-Lapu in its cultural and industrial tour of Southeast Asia.
When we voiced the fear that a considerable portion of the film may end up in the scissors department of the Board of Review for Moving Pictures because of its controversial nature, Conde declared with asperity: “Why? The main purpose of the picture is to entertain. There is nothing immoral in the film. Neither does it violate any rule of censorship. Those who inject meanings into the dialogue and situations in the photoplay do so at their own risk.” The target showing date of the picture, which was recently completed, is September 15. Conde says negotiations are on for its exhibition at a big downtown theater.
One of the controversial aspects of the photoplay is the fact that many of the characters look like some of the country’s top government officials and powerful politicians. Sultan Maputim, a good but weak-kneed chieftain surrounded by grafting sub-alterns and advisers, for instance, is portrayed by Flaviano Miranda, who is a deadringer for President Garcia. Extending the odious comparison further, Maputim is depicted in the picture as being fond of sungka, an ancient Filipino game slightly resembling chess, the President’s favorite pastime.
A hilarious but meaningful sequence shows Sultan Maputim playing sungka with Congressman Juan Tamad. The sultan tells Lazy John: “I enjoy playing sungka with you because you never ask for favors, unlike others who use the game as an excuse to ask patronage from me.”
Another uproarious but hard-hitting sequence shows Juan indulging in a bit of legerdemain by producing food out of nowhere. He utters the magic words: “BIR, CB, VIP, tax.” Asked to explain the initials, he says: “Bigay ikaw regalo (BIR), Camote bodega (CB), and verified influence peddler (VIP).” (Bigay ikaw regalo means “You give me presents.”) Queried further where he learned the magic words, Juan gladly obliges: “From the White Paper.”
The story revolves at a fast pace around Juan Tamad, the indolent son of a couple who are the sultan’s official oil makers. His laziness prompts Juan to borrow money from the village folk. In time, these creditors form a delegation which calls on Juan’s parents to ask them to persuade Lazybones to run for Congress. Only by winning a congressional seat can Juan pay his debts, his creditors believe.
Juan agrees to run and this is where the fun begins. He is provided with campaign trainers, a couple of political lameducks ably portrayed by Joseph de Cordova and Miniong Alvarez. As Lamy Ducky, Alvarez, who is cross-eyed, is a perennial loser, although his protégés win at the polls. This serves to underscore the Filipino’s flippant observation: “Ang taong duling walang gawang magaling.” (“A cross-eyed man is good for nothing.”)
Juan’s trainers teach him how to kiss babies, how to jump over fences and canals, how to shake hands and pat backs. Although he has powerful opponents in Lakan Hangin (hot air), a pompous and unscrupulous politico, and Lakan Tabil, a loquacious third-party candidate who would sell his grandmother down the river if this would make him win, Juan emerges victorious because of his gimmicks (kissing babies, etc.).
At the outset, Juan is flummoxed because, although he hears his colleagues in Congress address one another as “the gentleman from so-and-so,” they indulge in fisticuffs at the slightest provocation. For instance, during one session, the gentleman from Boradod was explaining the mystery of the dry artesian wells: “I only promised artesian wells. I did not promise water.” Another congressman rose to interpellate but the first gentleman told him to shut up. The two then converted the august halls of Congress into an arena.
The gentleman from Kakawati wanted to find out from the Speaker if the foreign affairs department was engaged in the free delivery service “because the diplomatic bayong” – vernacular for pouch – “is being used to transport all sorts of items, from pins to jewelries.”
Somebody questioned one legislator why he was asking for so much funds to build bridges when there were not rivers in his district. This was his bright answer: “That is public service. The best remedy for unemployment is to build the bridges first, then dig the river afterwards.”
Even the Board of Pardons and the Bureau of Customs get hit during the sessions attended by Juan, who is known as the “Gentleman from Lawang-Lawa” for the simple reason that his bailiwick is bankrupt.
The congressman from Sibacong interpellated the gentleman from Kakawati thus: “Please pardon me for interrupting…” The Kakawati solon cut him short thus: “I am sorry but I cannot pardon you because I am a member of the pardon board.”
Another legislator wanted to know from the Lismabi – slang for “mabilis” or “fast” – solon if the 200 transistors he brought in from Hong Kong were tax paid. He countered indignantly: “Why should I pay for my personal effects?” Turning to Juan, the Lismabi congressman winked knowingly: “You know, Juan. As long as you are a gentleman, you can bring into the country anything from your junkets abroad tax free as personal effects.”
The highlight of the congressional proceedings is the adjournment of the session by the Speaker who bangs the gavel: “Resume at Bayside” (a night club).
After four years of doing nothing in Congress, Juan returns to his village in grand style – aboard a palanquin, surrounded by beautiful girls, and preceded by a blaring brass band. Because he obviously enriched himself in office while his constituents suffered in poverty, Juan was mobbed by the village folk.
Later, a repentant Juan holds a meeting and delivers the longest speech in his life (this is also the longest speech delivered before the cameras in local movie history). He tells his hushed audience that he is not interested in politics any more.
In one of the few serious moments in the picture, Lazy John twits the voters for electing to office people who later become their masters instead of their servants. “If there are bad officials today,” he points out, “it is the fault of the voters because they make politicians contribute to all sorts of affairs: christening parties, weddings, funerals, and fiestas. By doing this, you sell your votes. The politicians then think of ways to get back their capital. Not all politicians are crooks but many of them are, including myself. As long as the ballot is within the commerce of men nothing is going to change.”
The tragicomic conclusion of “Juan Tamad Goes To Congress” shows the idler under his favorite guava tree, waiting for an overhanging ripe fruit to fall into his mouth. The villagers form another delegation with a new project: “Juan Tamad For Senator.”
* * * * * *