Summary and Conclusions — Master’s Thesis

by Jose Gutierrez III

The mothers in the films of Lino Brocka – a veritable auteur who used film as his medium in expressing his insights through his works from 1970 to 1991 – gravitate towards two clusters of images: 1) the mothers who struggle within the confines of their role; and 2) the mothers who question their role and affirm themselves as persons.

Note: This is an excerpt from my M.A. thesis, “Images of the Mother in Lino Brocka Films: 1970-1991” (2008), submitted to the University of the Philippines-Diliman. In 2009, my journal article — Images of the Mother in Lino Brocka Films: 1970-1991 — based on this thesis was published in Plaridel: A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society 6 (2): 107-26.

Brocka’s films from 1970 to 1982 generally belong to the first cluster of images. Here, Brocka’s familiarity and affinity with the types of mothers as portrayed in studio films, popular literature, and “komiks” (serialized graphic novels) are seen. Within this cluster, the following images are identified and fleshed out: 1) the “ideal” mother; 2) mother as victim; and 3) the controlling matriarch. Among these, the “ideal” mother is the most oppressed. By accepting and internalizing the patriarchal construct of the mother as the “ilaw ng tahanan,” (light of the home) the woman enters into a role that imposes strict characteristics for her not just to display but internalize. Indeed, her self-definition and self-regard are tied up to her role and identity as a mother. She even judges herself and other women from the patriarchal point of view that she has internalized. She, the psychologically oppressed, becomes her own oppressor. She leads her children in bringing pleasure to their father. She looks and feels good all the time so that the home would be a haven for the family members. She upholds the value of love and tenderness in child-rearing, an activity that she “commonsensically” accepts as hers. She teaches her children the patriarchal values such as gender roles that she has unquestioningly accepted as true. For her, it is “commonsense” to make the father feel comfortable all the time at home, for it is the man’s right to rest after a day’s work. When she suffers, she does it silently, away from the eyes and ears of her husband and children because she cannot afford to make them feel bad. She is, after all, the “ilaw ng tahanan” (light of the home); a house with a less-than-bright light is not a home. For her, the thought of being tagged as a “bad mother” is unimaginable for it would shatter her identity and self-respect.

The mother as victim comes next to the “ideal” mother with regard to oppression. While for the “ideal” mother, the source of oppression is internal, for the victimized mother, it is external in the form of the violence and cunning of men and the patriarchal demands of the society that they dominate. The controlling matriarch also struggles within the confines of her role as mother. Superficially, the matriarch has power over people, objects, and objectified people, but this is never stable. The matriarch merely took over the properties left by the father; thus, she strains to maintain the volatile stability of her “realm.” She masks her insecurity amidst the patriarchal society that negatively frames her as a borrower of power by controlling her children either through overt meddling or emotional manipulation.

After Brocka’s incarceration, his works became braver and more daring. This marks the point that sets off the second cluster of images of the mothers in Brocka’s later films. This time, Brocka wields the power of his artistry in the genre of melodrama and his masterful characterizations of the mother to reflect this political insight into images that communicate not just to the hearts but also to the minds – not just emotions but consciousness as well – of the Filipino viewing public. From this point, Brocka does more than describe the Filipino mother; he proceeds to analyze and prescribe more progressive images of the mother and the concrete actions that she can take in a male-dominated society where she struggles to assert herself as her own, free person.

Brocka’s films from 1984 to 1991 generally belong to the second cluster of images. Two images – the mother as transgressor and aggressor of patriarchy – are identified and fleshed out from the cluster of images of the mothers who question their role and affirm themselves as persons in Brocka’s later films. The mother challenges patriarchy by openly expressing her sexual desire and refusing to judge herself from the patriarchal point of view that categorizes women as either “pure” or “loose” and mothers as either “good” or “bad.” The transgressive mother also declines to take it upon herself to protect her daughter’s innocence at the expense of the truth. She also refuses martyrdom and struggles for power with men both in the domestic and the larger social spheres. As the aggressor of patriarchy, the mother directly confronts not just her husband or father but the dominant patriarchal system itself. The mother, as a person, demands justice that is due to her. She also proceeds to search for social justice in the collective in which she, her husband, and children are part of. She does not limit her energy to the family; for her, the family and the collective are not distinct spheres. Indeed, the personal is also the political.

Two main conditions relating to the industry and the auteur’s personal viewpoint in the context of the turbulent climate of the martial law and post-martial law eras explain the changes in the said images of the mother in his films: 1) the producers that Brocka worked with in his films, and 2) his politicization as an artist.

Brocka’s melodrama films, within the commercial context of the industry, inevitably take in the traditional images of the mother as construed and projected by the male-dominated society. Patriarchy’s phallocentric subject, the woman (the “other” as an extension of patriarchy) accepts and never questions her role as a mother. Motherhood then becomes her primary function. When she relinquishes this role, she loses her meaning in life; thus, the she strains to maintain mothering as her lifelong activity. The mother is a venerable figure – pure and righteous – patterned after the Blessed Virgin Mary; thus, the she raises her children to be law-abiding and God-fearing. Patriarchy enforces the status quo through her who internalizes and embodies the values of society and culture. When her children become wayward, she suffers miserably. She is long- suffering and strives to prevent the condemnation of her children and herself. Her desire is confined to her husband and children. When she expresses her personal desire – in essence, affirming herself as a person – she transgresses the acceptable code of behavior for women and is therefore punished. Lourdes Lapuz, in Being Filipino (1981), outlines the characteristics of the traditional Filipino mother:

(1) The “Divine Mother” or “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” inspires the Filipino mother who sees in her a vivid symbol of her aspirations. The Filipino mother is never in doubt about her mission in life. She often bases her decision on what is best for her children.

(2) Once the Filipina has her own children, she embarks on a full-time, lifelong job.

(3) She feels she must always be around – in spirit if not in body – to watch over every need of her child, be it spoken or not.

(4) She will often sacrifice her own comfort just to provide what the child wants.

(5) She looks at her son for guidance, protection, and sympathy; thus, she tries to keep him a baby as long as possible.

(6) For the daughter, she believes that only when the younger woman has her own children can she begin paying back her debt to her mother. The value of the dutiful daughter, who clothes, feeds, shelters, and cares for her mother is therefore upheld. When the daughter has her own children, she assumes her mother’s viewpoint and becomes a soul-mate to her.

(7) Feeding her offspring is her lifelong duty.

(8) She zealously watches over her adult children’s affairs. She perceives the world outside the home as full of moral dangers for her offspring, especially the girls. She even wants to know what goes on in her adult children’s minds in order to prevent mistakes.

(9) The Filipino mother supports her children emotionally, physically and economically much longer than her American counterpart; in exchange, she is confident that when they grow up, they will not send her to the home for the aged.

(10) The worldwide feminist movement threatens the Filipino mother because it challenges and questions directly the Filipina’s self-definition. An example of this is the new value of the enjoyment of sex as an end in itself instead of just a means of procreation.

(Lapuz, 1981, pp. 9-13)

In Brocka’s early films (e.g., Wanted: Perfect Mother and Stardoom with Lea Productions) the images of the mothers – as “ideal” or as victim – are quite stereotypical and traditional. In an interview with Zenaida Latorre in Sixteen Magazine, Brocka recounts that even without formal training in filmmaking, he took the task of writing and directing his first movie, Lea Production’s festival anniversary offering, Wanted: Perfect Mother, on the conviction that “I know what I want to achieve” (qtd. in Sotto, 1993, p. 245). The same interview says that what the producers appreciated most about Brocka was “the tempered combination of his burning desire to create an artistic piece of work while realizing the external and material limitations of others concerned in the production” (qtd. in Sotto, 1993, p. 245). Indeed, in his first film, based on the popular material by Mars Ravelo serialized in Pilipino Komiks, Brocka moved within the context of the commercial film outfit Lea Productions. The commercial appeal of the mother character in this film lies in her perfection. Her aspirational and exalted image, set within the light-hearted conventions of the musical-drama genre – the film is apparently based on the blockbuster The Sound of Music (Wise, 1965) – in the commercial context of Brocka’s first film is one of the safe, tried-and-tested ways of appealing to the movie-going public, especially to mothers themselves.

Mario Hernando (1993) asserts that Brocka, through his films, relentlessly tried to entertain his audience and whenever possible, projected his vision of a society in turmoil and the effects of social and political environment on the individual; indeed, he moved with the commercial tide and weathered the ups and downs of the business. He continues, “Even in his ‘commercial’ projects, whether they were for Viva, Regal, or other film outfits, Brocka could not escape his need as an artist to possess integrity, project his vision clearly, and make his work more interesting” (Hernando, 1993, p. 41).

Throughout Brocka’s filmography, he still made films based from “komiks” (serialized graphic novels) and radio soap operas, but as he made a name for himself, he was empowered by producers who believed in his talent as an auteur who achieves a sense of balance between mass appeal and artistry in his films. He felt that he no longer had to be confined to the “tried- and-tested” and “safe” ways of portraying the mother. He progressively expressed his creative control, notwithstanding the original material and the commercial context of the industry, in later films like Pasan Ko ang Daigdig (1987, material by Pablo S. Gomez, serialized in Aliwan Komiks) and Kailan Mahuhugasan ang Kasalanan? (1989, material by Salvador Royales, serialized over DZRH).

Brocka’s films, especially the later ones, became sites or platforms for the auteur to explore more progressive conceptualizations of the mother. The resulting images of the mother variously approach the subjectivities and characteristics of the liberated woman in patriarchy. As a liberated woman, the mother questions the very nature of the role assigned to her. For her, motherhood is merely a phase in a woman’s life. As a mother, she thus raises her children so that they can stand on their own feet as soon as possible. She has her own life to live, her own person to develop. This liberated woman realizes that expectation for the mother to embrace and embody total obedience to the laws of man and God very often goes against her personal rights. For example, the imposition of marriage to protect the purity of the woman and to legalize motherhood may go against her personal choice to not be a wife but still raise her own child and develop herself more as an independent person. As her own person who refuses to be confined by the words of others, she now suspends social and personal judgment. She has her own life. She has her own money. The mother also refuses to constantly monitor and control the morality of her children out of fear that she will be judged by society for her children’s actions. Her children, especially as adults, are persons distinct from her. She only sympathizes with them when they are already destroying themselves as persons. Indeed, the mother as a liberated woman breaks away from the confines of her role. The expression of her desire as a person becomes natural for her. She uses her desire – whether in sex, career, or decision-making – to develop and complete herself as an independent person.

Indeed, Brocka’s films with the major studios Regal (e.g. Ina, Kapatid, Anak; Mother Dear; Adultery: Aida Macaraeg Case No. 7892; Makiusap sa Diyos), Viva (Pasan Ko ang Daigdig and Sa Kabila ng Lahat), and even the other commercially oriented film outfits Lotus films (Inay), Cine Suerte (Cain at Abel), and D’Wonder Films (Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde) exhibit the masterful interaction between his artistry as an auteur who makes statements about society and culture (including conceptualizations of women and mothers), his familiarity with and recognition of the tastes and expectations of the masses, and his appreciation of cinema as a business. In an interview with Manlogon (1988), Brocka explains, “People should be informed and made conscious of where they are. Why at age five their child is out there picking garbage. And why is that so? Because there is an imbalance in justice. Dapat malaman ng tao kung bakit may nagugutom. Kung bakit may mga Maria at Petra na isinasanla ang buhay nila para maging domestic helper. People must open their eyes to the why of these things para makakilos sila” (Manlogon, 1988, p. 20). In the same interview, Brocka pronounces that the livelihood or economic factor makes it necessary to be in the commercial mainstream. He continues, “But when you do these factory films, as I call them, these mainstream films, you try to improve in terms of logic, in terms of production, editing, acting, scriptwriting, in terms of all the aspects of filmmaking” (p. 20). When he made commercial films, what he strove for was “a sense of balance”; Brocka declares, “Hindi naman altogether, e, you capitulate and say, o siya, puro ganun na lang. Hindi mo naman maaalis sa mga director na tulad ko na gumawa ng mga pelikula na while aiming to be commercial also tries to say something naman. Ang ibig kong sabihin, movies that are not fantasy. Movies that tackle a particular reality, yung may kaunting katotohanan” (Manlogon, 1988, p. 20).

Aside from commercial films, Brocka also made films with more independent film outfits CineManila (Bukas, Madilim, Bukas; Hellow Soldier; Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; Insiang) and Cinema Artists (Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag) whose producers gave him significantly more leeway in pursuing his artistic expression and socio-political consciousness. When Brocka became more politicized as an artist, he was able to flesh out more progressive characterizations, narratives, and resultant images of the mothers – as transgressors and aggressors – in his later films. Jose “Butch” Dalisay affirms, “As his political insight sharpened, he began to see beyond the individuality of his characters and their dilemmas and express them as social paradigms” (1993, p. 76). Brocka’s expression of his politicization as an artist reached its peak in the films that he made with producers (i.e. Stephan Films and Malaya Films, Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim, and Cannon Films, Orapronobis) who shared his advocacies and therefore afforded him to use his art as a tool to raise the consciousness of the viewers. Pete Lacaba notes that the ending of Orapronobis (1989) was Brocka’s idea, something that he strongly insisted on; here, “Brocka went beyond personal hatred and individualistic violence to more broad-based resolutions” (Dalisay, 1993, p. 84).

Aside from the producers that Brocka worked with and his own politicization as an artist, the efficacy of his artistic expression as a filmmaker and even his political consciousness especially in his later films were also enhanced by his collaboration with his progressive scriptwriters (who also became his friends) like Orlando Nadres (Stardoom; Bukas, Madilim, Bukas; and Pasan Ko ang Daigdig), Mario O’Hara (Hellow Soldier, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, and Insiang), Clodualdo del Mundo (Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag), Jose “Butch” Dalisay (Inay, Miguelito: Ang Batang Rebelde, and Kailan Mahuhugasan ang Kasalanan?), Jose Javier Reyes (Mother Dear and Adultery: Aida Macaraeg Case No. 7892), Ricardo Lee (Cain at Abel), and Jose “Pete” Lacaba (Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim and Orapronobis) who also had wide exposure to the arts (especially literature and theater) and whose visions reciprocally interacted and simmered with his own.

In Miserere Nobis (Have Mercy on Us), Jose “Pete” Lacaba (1991) recounts that around December 1990, Lino Brocka called him to his old Scout Albano apartment to tell him that someone connected with the Rotterdam International Film Festival, in Holland, had informed him of the existence of a script development fund that Lino might want to avail himself of. Lacaba (1991) remembers, “The only things needed were, first, a written rationale to explain why he needed foreign financing and, second, a storyline” (p. 74). Lacaba (1991) continues:

We started throwing ideas around. We talked about the ‘human rights trilogy’ that he wanted us to do. He had started thinking of a trilogy during the filming of Orapronobis, which he saw as the first in a series. [. . .] We then worked on the rationale, which he faxed to Rotterdam in January. He should have faxed the storyline at the same time, but the first draft I submitted had no ending and simply explained that the ending still needed to be discussed with the director. Lino said that would not be acceptable to the festival people or the prospective financiers, so I came up with a resolution I was not entirely happy with, but one that would do for the meantime, knowing the ending was something that could still be worked on in the process of scripting and even filming. Lino brought the storyline with him to Rotterdam, but he had already missed the faxing deadline, and he was informed that he would have to wait until next year’s festival to submit the storyline again.

(Lacaba, 1991, p. 74)

On 21 May 1991, Lino Brocka died in a car accident. Lacaba (1991) laments, “With him died the idea of a human rights trilogy; there will be no next year at Rotterdam (p. 74).” Brocka, through his films, still contributes to the discourse on motherhood in Philippine culture. This study endeavored to map the transition from the primarily virginal and venerable discourse on motherhood before Brocka’s era to the significantly more liberated and existential discourse on motherhood in the 1990s to the 2000s. In Filipino films before Brocka’s era, the images of the mothers were patterned after and judged against the image of “Mama Mary”; the mothers in Tunay na Ina (Silos, 1939) and Biyaya ng Lupa (1959) are pure, virginal, all-suffering, and venerable. On the other hand, in Filipino films in the 1990s onward, such as Batang PX (Reyes, 1997), Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa? (Roño, 1998), Anak (Quintos, 2000), Mudraks (Badayos & Guzman, 2006), and Inang Yaya (Biglangawa & Velasco, 2006), the mothers become real, specific, and considerably more liberated women who are judged by their merits as persons coping with the new challenges that they and their children face. Now, they openly recognize that they have needs beyond the admiration and adoration of their children. They even “dare” question the very naturalness of the sociocultural confines that the discourse on motherhood imposes on their personhood. In Anak (2000), Josie (Vilma Santos) voices out:

Bakit gano’n, ang lalaki kapag binigyan niya ang pamilya niya ng pakain, damit, bahay, tapos napag-aral niya ang mga anak niya, ang sasabihin ng mga tao, aba, mahusay siyang ama. Pero kapag babae ka, kahit ibinigay mo na ang lahat ng iyo sa mga anak mo, kasama pa pati puso, pati kaluluwa mo, parang hindi pa rin sapat na tawagin ka na mabuting ina. Sana pwede natin sabihing, oops, tama na. Hanggang d’yan na lang ang pagiging nanay ko. Kasi kahit nanay ka, nakakapagod din, ‘di ba?

Anak (Quintos, 2000)

Lino Brocka opened doors for Filipino mothers in cinema. Brocka’s films from 1970 to 1991 project the image of the mother as a person with her own history and social context that resist the judgment of black-and-white morality. Progressively, the mother possesses the personal will to express her desires, to demand her own justice, and to determine her own identity and future that are not entirely determined by her father, husband, or even children. Indeed, Brocka’s films significantly challenge the traditional characterization of the mother as weak-willed, self-sacrificing, and long-suffering. The films of Lino Brocka situate her in narratives that make her struggle with and ultimately question the confines that her role as a mother imposes on her personhood. The resulting images of the mothers pave the way to more liberated characterizations, visualizations, narratives, and representations of the mothers in Philippine Cinema. Certainly, this is one of Brocka’s greatest legacies to the Filipino people.


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  • Biglangawa, P. & Velasco, V. (Directors). (2006). Inang yaya [mother nanny]. [Film] Screenplay by Veronica Velasco. Philippines: Unitel Pictures.
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  • Brocka, L. (Director). (1971) Stardoom. [Film]. Screenplay by Orlando Nadres. Philippines: Lea Productions.
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