|The balangay Sultan sin Sulu on Manila Bay|
Balangay on Manila Bay
Before the Cinemalaya: Philippine Independent Film Festival at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) ended, there was an extra treat, a rare one. In the morning of August 12, 2017, a modern recreation of a balangay docked at the CCP, affording a ride around the Manila Bay to journalists and the film festival’s staff and guests.
The balangay is an ancient plank boat adjoined by carved-out planks edged through pins and dowels, some of which were excavated in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte, in 1976, then considered the first wooden watercraft ever in Southeast Asia. More balangays were discovered in the area, many dating hundreds of years old. They are attributed to the Sama people, who once settled in Butuan, and their boats are a testament to fine craftsmanship. The boat also became a Philippine cultural icon.
Cinemalaya uses its image as its symbol and logo because it “embodies the energy, imagination, courage and unbridled spirit, in short, the muse of diwata that inspires and guides filmmakers to create cinematic works of deep emotion and sharp insight that intrepidly cut through convention and prejudice to reveal the dynamic and vibrant complexity of what it is to be human and Filipino.”
The word barangay, which is the Philippines’ smallest political unit, is derived from balangay. One balangay was considered to carry one social unit.
Arturo Valdez, who led leader the Philippines’ Mount Everest expedition in 2007 and is currently undersecretary of the Department of Transportation, embarked on a project of recreating the balangay. The first boat was named Diwata ng Lahi and sailed around the Philippines in 2009. It then went around Southeast Asia, together with another balangay replica, the Masawa Hong Butuan, before becoming a permanent display on the grounds of the National Museum of the Philippines.
A third one was build, the Sultan sin Sulu, planned for a voyage to China in 2018. But before that, we cruised around Manila Bay. The sea was calm and the sky slate-gray as we waited for the sails to be hoisted up. Being without outrigger, the boat rocked to the wave and wind, while Valdez talked to us.
In between major expeditions, he said the balangays and their crew go around the Philippines to raise awareness of the Filipinos’ maritime achievements and attachment to the sea, the country being an archipelago. He spoke about greatness of the Filipino in maritime to the international jurors of the film festival as the balangay rode the waves, breaking up clumps of trash. Often, we were surrounded by floating maps of garbage.
He also told the passengers that we have lost attachment to the sea because of colonialism, despite the fact that there are peoples who are naturally more attached to the earth such as the peoples of the interiors, like the Cordillerans, and that many peoples live along the coast and on small islands as they do for many centuries, their daily lives very much attached to the sea.
If you close your eyes, you can feel the movements of the past. From a distance, a part of Manila seemed beautiful, a light blue strip bristling with a few coconut trees and many buildings, even pensive. But actually, when the dark comes, horrendous things happen in the city.
Blood on Philippine earth
We woke up after more than a year and realized more than 13,000 people were murdered. It has been more than year now since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his so-called war on drugs, which mainly constitutes the killing of drug suspects without giving them due process. These blatant violations on human rights the president himself endorsed in many of his expletive-filled and sexist speeches. What is more chilling is that millions of Filipinos are cheering this policy and even expressing approval and satisfaction, and policemen get to kill people, who are immediately dismissed as drug users or pushers.
The second week of August is the bloodiest week in the war on drugs with more than 80 murdered in Manila, Bulacan and Cavite. Among them is a 17-year-old student named Kian de los Santos, who became sort of a tipping point.
Condemnations, expressions of outrage and indignation, denouncements from the Catholic church, educational institutions, civic organizations, artists, cultural workers, writers and other groups poured in. This has been the most brutal and crudest administration that I have witnessed so far.
From the onset, I hesitated from calling the whole thing what it is, but it is what it is—evil, pure evil. Despite the heavy rains, I joined hundreds at the People’s Power Monument along EDSA to protest. Here, we cried, expressed outrage and tried to reclaim our humanity for the country. We should have not allowed this in the first place, and the fight is not over.