11 June 2016


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred Thirty-One!

Miss these meme, anyone? I never did wrap up last year's Conspiratorial Corners challenge . . . a miss that is working its way to another mark this month. Today's setting may not be a place where a conspiracy was plotted out, but it is a notorious emblem of one of the most conspiracy-driven governments in the history of the world. Few other places in the Philippines fit the Marcos Pa Rin theme as well as this one.

The Film Palace
Empire of Memory
by Eric Gamalinda

The First Lady's festival coordinator, Betsy Braga, had ordered engineers of the Film Palace to rush construction for the simple reason that the First Lady wanted to open the festival here, and nowhere else. The Cultural Centre would not do: the carpeting was not right, the projection room inadequate, the lobby too cramped. And there had to be a magnificent view of the Manila Bay sunset, the better to astonish jetsetters already jaded by the French Riviera.

To rush construction of the Film Palace, engineers defied physical laws and kept on pouring cement and erecting one floor over another. Two days ago, just before noon, the third floor collapsed. There were several workers missing, as well as families who had been camping with them in the unfinished basement.

"Buried alive?" I asked Ted . . .

Filipinos with a living memory of the early 1980s know exactly what Eric Gamalinda's Film Palace is pointing to, even if they don't remember it did have "Film Palace" as its original name. (I learned that just now myself.) I refer to the Manila Film Centre, an enormous part-classical, part-brutalist edifice designed to include the national film archives, a 1,600-seat auditorium, labs for filmmakers, viewing rooms for censors, an enormous lobby, and yes, panoramic views of Manila Bay. It cost US$25 million to build--an amount which, adjusted for inflation, amounts to US$65.8 million today. And if you're thinking that the Philippines must have had an amazing local film industry for the government to have invested so much money in archives for its output, well, you have yet to meet the Marcoses.

Don't think for a minute that the Marcos administration built the Manila Film Centre for Filipinos. We were just a convenient excuse. As soon as the Manila Film Centre entered into their grandoise plans for a film festival, it was built primarily for foreigners. For the Manila International Film Festival really was intended to rival its inspiration at Cannes, and to do this, it needed the right face. The Marcoses wanted the world to see the Philippines as a land of culture, class, sophistication, vision, and elegant infrastructure . . . and as the deadline for the first MIFF drew closer while its intended main theatre remained unfinished, despite three teams of laborers working around the clock in shifts . . .

The set-up makes it too easy, doesn't it? And popular tradition does have it that the Marcoses deliberately rushed construction and encouraged the engineers to prioritise speed over safety. While this is, knowing them, very likely . . . it's equally possible that the collapse of some scaffolding, which caused many of the workers to fall onto and be trapped in some rapidly-drying cement, was a terrible accident that might have happened even if better precautions had been taken. But it didn't help the Marcoses' cause that they barred rescuers from entering the site for a full nine hours, for PR reasons--or that the official death count of 28 was a wild cry from another count of 169 workers never making it out alive. And well, although there is about as much evidence for it as the next urban legend, everyone believes that what happened next (which is also what happens after the third floor of Gamalinda's Film Palace collapses) was cement being poured over the rubble, the screaming survivors being buried alive, and construction resuming like clockwork after that unfortunate delay. Yes, this is what we all thought of the Marcoses.

One month later, the first Manila International Film Festival was a rousing success. The foreign guests included Ben Kingsley, Franco Nero, Peter Ustinov, Jeremy Irons, Robert Duvall, and my personal favourite . . . How is this for a living memory? When I was a child, one of my older relatives started dating a woman who had had a special job during the MIFF, as a special assistant to Brooke Shields! And this lady was happy to tell me that the teenage Shields was as sweet and polite in real life as she seemed on the screen.

Question of the Week: Is there a building in your town with an interesting construction story?

Read more about Option #37: Empire of Memory by Eric Gamalinda and if you'd like a copy of your own, please enter my Philipine Literature Giveaway through the Rafflecopter below!

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Image Source: Empire of Memory by Eric Gamalinda


Brandon said...

I don't know if it really counts as a 'construction story', but the oldest building in Austin is the French Legation. After Texas Independence, the French sent an ambassador, Alphonse Dubois, to investigate whether an alliance would be beneficial, and when Dubois recommended such an alliance, he was named ambassador to Texas. But when he got to Austin, which had just recently been designated capital, there wasn't any suitable building for his finery, personal chef, and so forth. So he began building a nice house and office just out of town to serve as the official French Legation, and rented a building in town while it was being built. One of the early residents of Austin, though, Richard Bullock, kept a large herd of pigs that he let roam anywhere they wanted; and they kept breaking Dubois's fence and tearing up his garden, and at one point broke into his house in town and started eating his papers and clothes.

So Dubois instructed his servants to kill any pigs that came on the property. Thus began what is now known as the 1841 Pig War. Dubois's servants kept killing pigs; Bullock demanded recompense; Dubois refused on the ground of diplomatic immunity; Bullock beat one of Dubois's servants to a pulp in the middle of the street; Dubois filed an official protest; the Texas Secretary of State tried to hold a hearing, but Dubois claimed that international law established that neither he nor the servant had to testify; Bullock was let free on bail; Dubois complained again; and the Texas government, a little tired of it at this point, told him that if he really had that much of a problem with it, he could always go back to France.

Which he did, for a year. France canceled a loan to Texas and a military treaty over the event. When Dubois returned, the capital had moved temporarily to Washington-on-the-Brazos, so he sold the French Legation -- it was still being built -- to Jean-Marie Odin, the first Vicar Apostolic to Texas (and later Bishop of Galveston).

Enbrethiliel said...


ROFL! I feel a little bad for Dubois. My first reaction was that he should have just testified or let his servant testify, as an act of good will and another sort of diplomacy . . . but I can also see how it would have been too humiliating. On the other hand, if Dubois was right about international law, then the Secretary of State's decision seems to say that they weren't really interested in an alliance with France. *shrug*

Make that a . . . *Gallic shrug*

I hope things worked out for both him and Texas when he returned.

Thanks for the story, Brandon!

Sheila said...

Well... that is a really horrifying story, if true. I assume the illustrious guests hadn't heard it? I would be tempted to catch a flight home, rather than attend a film festival in a place with that sort of shadow over it!

Enbrethiliel said...


"If true"??? You're going to take the Marcoses' word over mine?!?!? ;-)

But it is worth adding that a documentary came out one decade ago which did focus more on what evidence we have beyond, well, the ghosts. =P The problem is that the Marcoses demanded so much secrecy (and at the time, they controlled both the police and the media) that there isn't much to go by. The contractor and one witness say that all the bodies were retrieved, but another witness says there were many that were deliberately forgotten. I suppose the only way to be really sure is to demolish the building and chip away at the foundation. (Science geeks may feel free to tell me about any new technology that can detect skeletons in concrete.)

In any case, it remains an interesting monument to the Marcos era: a grandoise white elephant most Filipinos wouldn't enter if you paid them.

I doubt the guests heard about any of this until long after the festival. There would have been few, if any, media leaks and I can't imagine any of the employees saying anything.