Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—" Earth's whisper." The English translation of "Hunghong sa Yuta" — the title of Arnel Mardoquio's film about war and peace in Mindanao — easily cues us on how to read this story about a clutch of deaf-mute children in a mountain community consisting of Christians, Muslims and Lumads, and the teacher from the city who introduces them to the alphabet and numbers.
War between rebels and the military has devastated the community of Hinyok, its most telling casualty being children born without the ability to speak and hear, and whose fathers are nevertheless intent on training them to become fighters to defend their land.
Vigo Cruz, artist and toy-maker, answers a posted notice about Hinyok's need for a teacher, and his work with the children brings joy and hope to the young war victims and their mothers.
Mardoquio's screenplay weaves together with realism and symbolism the many contradictions that the war has imposed on the community. The military has been sent by the Manila government to the jungles of Mindanao to decimate the rebels as per the demands of politicians and businessmen who want peace so their careers and business could prosper. The communities are forced to take up arms to defend their farms and homes. With husbands away as guerilla fighters, the mothers find themselves taking sides in the war, suspicious of strangers who come into their midst — until Vigo comes to Hinyok and presents himself as a teacher to their children. Thus, armed with the abakada and numbers, the children become persons able to get hold of an
alternative to their crudely-fashioned wooden toy guns. Here Mardoquio's narrative takes a symbolic turn.
Having achieved their identity as persons, the children are on their way to discovering the bond that integrates them as members of one community. This is dramatized in their recovery of brass instruments that the war had caused to be abandoned in a stream following a massacre of villagers. But the joy of making music is disrupted by the revelation that Taok, a man assumed to be a rebel leader, turns out to be a soldier spying on the community. The deaths that ensue bring out lamentable consequences of war. Not spared are the lives of men of goodwill such as Vigo, the tribal woman leader Buyag Inggan, the intrepid fighter Wahab, the recalcitrant Amrayda.
An advocacy project of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart Youth Ministry under the leadership of Br. Noelvic Deloria SC, "Hunghong" is part of what its producers intends as a "mobile peace education campaign." What distinguishes it from the usual advocacy project is the meticulous care given by the director and his staff, and the passion and excellence of the finished project. Mardoquio as director has assembled a highly competent cast from Davao City theater folk that includes Nelson Dino, Lucia Cijas, Joan Mae Soco, Popong Landero, Mario Leofer Lim and Christine Lim. The child actors Jaymar Generana and Marvin Mindog confidently blend with the adult performers.
Of the technical staff assisting Mardoquio, outstanding is the work of the cinematographer Egay Navarro whose achievement with a single high-density digital camera can only be described as miraculous. As film editor, Arthur Ian Garcia provides Navarro superior assistance in turning out a smooth but dynamic narrative flow for the film, in spite of the limited imagery captured by only one camera. Composer Popong Landero has provided music that hauntingly captures the ethnic atmosphere of Hinyok and its culture.
Certainly, "Hunghong sa Yuta" is a Davao film that richly deserves to be seen nationwide.
Bienvenido Lumbera is a National Artist for Literature