A Brillante Mendoza film written by Troy Espiritu, the movie that gave Jaclyn Jose a Cannes Best Actress started and ended on two things: candies and fish balls. Parallel to her family’s journey, the movie started on a grocery store and ended on a street food cart.
Jaclyn Jose played the role of Ma’Rosa, a strong woman who decides for herself and finds a way to getting more than she deserves. She may be judged as sinister being a small-time drug pusher yet there are shades of goodness in her heart. She was considerate when due to narrowness of the interior street, the old taxi driver refused to drop her and her son in front of their house while it was raining hard. She loved her husband enough to accept and tolerate his being a drug user (and seller), and was planning to celebrate her husband’s birthday had they not been arrested for possession of illegal drugs. Most of all she loved her children to the extent of selling crystal meth “ice” to send them to school and for family survival. Well, describing the character does not mean being agreeable to the action.
However, such “goodness” also became her downfall when the boy, a neighbor who begged her for drugs and whom she gave it for free, turned traitor and tipped her and her husband Nestor (portrayed by Julio Diaz) to the police in exchange of the release of the boy’s brother who was first arrested: a fact learned by their eldest Jackson (portrayed by Felix Roco) who almost beat the tipster to death. ( Palit-ulo is the term used when an arrested “suspect” provides information to the police for the capture of somebody else in exchange of his release).
Sari-sari or convenience store sells variety of goods needed in the household and in the movie Ma’Rosa, it included drugs in the form of Methamphetamine or shabu hidden inside a shoe box along with other goods for sale, and in one instance in the movie, sold hidden in a cigarette case. Setting is the crowded neighborhood where there are all sorts of poor people drinking and gambling.
The movie shows the mechanics of the drug trade from the big-time pusher distributed by the supplier, repacked by the seller, to the buyer who is either listed on a notebook or a representative who can assure the seller that he is a ‘legitimate’ representative who has proof on his mobile phone and knows the password; to the police who may also turn ninja (a jargon) by reselling drugs they confiscated, distributed through their dealers; and the cycle goes on.
They were at home when Rosa and Nestor were captured. Children seemed not to know about the underground business of their parents. The couple were asked by the police to pay the sum of Php200k to be freed and since they could not raise the amount, they needed to tell the police from whom they get drugs in order for them be freed. Again, a palit-ulo. They were able to turn over Jomar (played by Kristofer King), their supplier, whose wife was also unable to pay the whole amount asked by the police. When Jomar sent a text message and called his higher up “Major,” a mobile phone in the police station rang, implying that the boss was a high-ranking police officer. Jomar received a good beating because of what happened. The wife who was forced to give money to the police for the release of her husband also seemed to know the network his husband has gotten into. The police had a feast on their jackpot, easy money and a large amount of crystal meth for possible reselling, yet it was never enough and they wanted more. It seems okay to the “law enforcers” for drug trade to proliferate as long as they get the lion’s share. Everything, even the conspiracy among the police and a few civilian helpers seemed but a natural, everyday occurrence.
The group of policemen who interrogate the drug suspects were in a room at the backdoor. No blotter, no record is needed in their operations. It looks like an open secret as the policemen in the main office just continue with their job. They didn’t seem surprised when one of the policemen said he will lead Rosa and Nestor’s children to their parents as their names were not found on police record and neither were they among those inside jail cells. The kind of policemen they were was implied by how they did not regard their shirt uniform highly as they simply lent it to err… threw it for Nestor to wear as the couple had to change since they were wet with rain. Bad weather was symbolic of what was about to happen next. Even the backdoor symbolizes the underground activity of these erring policemen, and the money from drugs hidden under the well-ironed police uniform.
Three of four children nearly raised the amount needed by their parents in so short a time. Their youngest was a child. Jackson bargained their television and was looking for a buyer of their videoke machine, older daughter Raquel played by Jaclyn Jose’s real life daughter Andi Eigenmann, sought help from relatives, even if Rosa warned her not to seek help from her sister-in-law Tilde played by Maria Isabel Lopez; and younger son Erwin (Jomari Angeles) went out with an older man to get a sum to contribute largely to what his siblings had earned. It was also implied that that was not the first time that Erwin went out with the older man played by Alan Paule. The children raised Php46k.
Twice in the movie when Rosa was arrested and riding a police mobile going to the police station and when she was allowed to go out to search for Php4k more to complete the Php50k needed, she closely observed two families who were working together for a meager earning, in contrast to the life that they had, selling drugs to escape poverty. Instant, just like the noodles she was buying at the grocery when the story began.
Rosa was buying instant noodles and other items needed in her store. She did not accept the candy in exchange for the centavos the cashier didn’t have but upon learning that she could not insist on having coins, she grabbed more than what was supposed to amount to her change. In the end, all that she had and even more— the amount ‘worked for’ by her children had to be given to the police as bribe in exchange of freedom. With little time to search for the completion of the amount being asked, even crying had to be postponed until the problem is solved. So when finally she got hold of the much needed money, she was able to buy fish balls on the street. It was the most delicious and expensive celebration she had for her husband’s birthday. She munched it slowly and literally with feelings, as tears moistened her eyes, while imagining the mockery of and humiliation from the people in the neighborhood and the policemen who got all that was supposed to be her family’s. They lost all they already had: little things like television, cellular phone, pride against her sister-in-law, and the older man with whom his younger son “sold” his body.
A moviegoer who takes pleasure on mansions and stories of the rich and famous would be disappointed to see this movie which tackles real-life drama on poverty and corruption. Nothing is sugarcoated, fantasy has no place in it, only a realization of the drama called life. Timely, as there are five police generals named by the Philippine President to be allegedly involved in drugs.
A lesson not to be overlooked is the love the family has for each member. Love that does not judge, love that is big enough to pull them together in the face of adversity.
Speaking of love, Arella Family (on Facebook) thanks filmmaker and director Brillante Mendoza for dedicating the film in loving memory of Rose Arella, my uncle’s wife, my aunt. She portrayed the role of Cecille/ Rose, secretary in the barangay hall where the TV was sold and the videoke was being negotiated.
She passed away September of last year when she was just beginning to see the realization of her childhood dream of becoming an actress. A successful and retired MARO (Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer), she went home to her Creator without seeing this film on silver screen. Aunt Rosario Requiron-Arella must be watching over and happy in God’s loving arms as she had been to Cannes through this film that has marked its place in the history of Philippine cinema.
An avid supporter of my projects and programs, she must be happy that I am writing this now. Hello from the other side, Tita Rosy.
Check out schedules. The movie Ma’Rosa is now showing. (July 2016)