By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Maid in Malacañang
Directed by Darryl Yap
The Big Reveal in the controversial and much-talked-about Maid in Malacañang (MIM) comes in Chapter 8, also titled “Maid in Malacañang.” All the months of buzz had it that this account of the last 72 hours of Pamilya Marcos Sr. in the Palace, would be told from the POV of three faithful kasambahay (maids) who were there and saw it all. Turns out, it is Senator Imee Marcos, the creative and executive producer, who is the real “Maid in Malacañang.”
The movie has 10 chapters, so try to be awake for this one. Chapter 8 features Imee’s (played by Christine Reyes) big heart-to-heart with her dad (Cesar Montano) as they await the US contingent which will escort them to Ilocos Norte — or so they think. In another effortful attempt to humanize him, Marcos Sr. croaks his concern that all the “little people” working for them as domestics might become collateral damage as the People Power crowd outside the Palace walls grows increasingly restive. Then, he warmly praises Imee, his “genius girl,” for always serving him and the nation selflessly, and to the best of her ability, dubbing her the true “Maid in Malacañang.” In turn, she assures him that history will judge him rightly: not as a monster, but as a true soldier and loving leader of the Filipino people. So, that’s what this is really all about.
When Imee was quoted last June, as saying: “Ang importante, ’yung maahon namin ang pangalan namin, ang apelyido namin, na ’yung legacy ng tatay ko babalikan at titingnan ng maigi. ’Yun ang importante. (What is most important is that we clear our family name, that my father’s legacy will be re-examined truthfully and fairly. That is foremost.)” And that’s exactly what she set out to do in this movie.
MIM opens and ends with mahjong. The tiles might symbolize the forces amassing against them. In the opening Singapore hotel lobby sequence, Imee, with a baby on her hip, looks on with consternation, as the players shuffle the red tiles. Note: wala siyang yaya o bodyguards (she has no nanny or security) — so much for the stories about PAL’s flight schedules gone haywire just to bring her expressed breast milk to her firstborn Borgy while she holidayed in London, and of hordes of her close-in security disrupting performances in London’s West End. Anyway, the red mahjong tiles might symbolize Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, General Fidel V. Ramos, and the Reform the Armed Forces (inexplicably renamed the Military Reform Movement in the film) who have mounted a military coup against them. She rushes back to their hotel room where Borgy, a budding psychic or just a little war freak, is drawing military helicopters and tanks. She’s just in time for a phone call from her father the President who tells her to return immediately to Manila. In any crisis, he needs his “genius girl” by his side.
Imee’s being indispensable to Marcos Sr. is repeatedly stressed. A larger Olympian origin story prevails: Imee sprang like Athena from Marcos/Zeus’ head. They are like-minded, kindred spirits. She is his confidante, consigliere and rightful heir-apparent. Upon her arrival from Singapore, she enters a large foyer crammed with unsealed balikbayan boxes, packed to the brim with wads of cash. With Imee away, her siblings failed to distribute these tokens of appreciation for all those poll-watchers and teachers who had ensured Marcos Sr.’s win in the Snap Elections. Imee frets over the delay: “Paano na tayo uulit? (How can we call on them to help us out again?)” That’s meant to counter reports like Los Angeles Times’ March 1986 story, that for their Great Escape, Pamilya Marcos brought “22 crates containing $1.2 million in Philippine pesos, apart from $7.7 million in cash and valuables into their suitcases when they fled to Hawaii last month, according to a US Customs Service inventory made public Monday.”
Marcos Sr. immediately summons Imee to a closed-door meeting, leaving Imelda (Ruffa Guttierez) and her siblings waiting in the hallway. Notwithstanding the Office of the President’s vast communications and intelligence resources, the maid Biday (Beverly Salviejo) is tasked with giving Imee the current situationer. Her turgid-tongued Bisayan accent guarantees easy laughs. For comic relief throughout the film, Salviejo fluctuates between Ilocano, Bisaya, and Batangueño accents. The absurdity of Manang Biday giving intelligence briefings might lull us into forgetting about the dreaded NICA (National Intelligence Coordinating Agency), which is now part of the even bigger and more powerful NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict).
Despite the millions of pesos literally lying around the Palace, and dozens of uniformed kasambahay protected by countless PSG (Presidential Security Group) to do their bidding, MIM would have us believe that those evil Cory supporters surrounding Malacañan for the last two days made it nearly impossible for them to go out and replenish their dangerously low food supplies. After just two days, Pamilya Marcos with their guards and retainers, were in danger of starving to death. Wala pa kasing Grab o Food Panda noon. (They couldn’t order online delivery back in 1986.) Youngest sister Irene’s (Ella Cruz) hubby Greggy Araneta, of the billionaire clan, returns from a grocery run with a tiny paper bag. His car was supposedly bombed. The kasambahay must resort to begging for food scraps from kind-hearted neighbors living around Malacañan. The director-scriptwriter Darryl Yap is unable to keep up this farce with a straight face. He can’t resist showing that the last breakfast of Pamilya Marcos and household is caviar on melba toast.
Yap’s forte is over-the top comedy, not historical retelling. His concession to straight drama is to insert a hysterical rant at the end of every sober narrative chapter or sequence. Christine Reyes plays Imee as perpetually on the edge, her face as tightly clenched as fingernails scraping across a blackboard. To show her concern over her father, Imee imagines another assassination attempt on him. She claims there had already been seven such, right in the Palace, as well as 12 previous coup attempts. There’s no record of these though in the Official Gazette.
Imee is overcome by paranoia, demanding to see the IDs of random PSG while shrieking in their faces: “Ilocos o Leyte?” (Ilocos province or Leyte province). Taking a page from the Faye Dunaway-Mommie Dearest school of acting wire hanger scene (a queer camp favorite), she vents her suspicions on the dialysis nurse, and hurls trays of medicine about, in search of poison. “You’re too nice!” she yells at her nonplussed father. Unlike the ruthlessly scheming and grasping halves of the Conjugal Dictatorship they have been portrayed to be, this ultimate power couple took off their shoes and tiptoed along the hallway to their bedroom, just to avoid disturbing the kasambahay Santa (Karla Estrada) who had fallen asleep there, believe it or not.
In the interest of equal time, Imee’s brother, here called Bonget, and younger sister are given their own moments of high (melo)drama too. For Bonget, whom Imee ridicules for playing toy soldier and never taking off his army fatigues (“You can’t wear that during the press con,” she warns him), it’s a teary exchange with dear old dad. He’s remorseful about his clubbing days and party boy ways. He just wants daddy to be proud of him, and is ready to lay down his life fighting for his family. Awww… The only bed scene in the movie is shared between Bonget and his mother. He assures her that even if they have to leave now, they will return, and the camera ominously closes up on the sole of a rhinestone-bedazzled sandal with the catalogue no. IRM 2022.
The bit in the trailer where Marcos the dictator thoughtfully asks if he was a bad person is in Irene’s (Ella Cruz) sequence. The actress has shown in interviews that she can really turn on the waterworks which she does so straight off in the film. It’s just one long tiresome whine from there, even as her dad explains that the powerful hate the Marcoses because they are poor provincial hicks — with a Congressman (Mariano Marcos) and a Supreme Court Justice (Norberto Romualdez) as their immediate ancestors. Inured to all the untrammeled hysteria and cringe-worthy drama, we are ready to doze off. If only Yap had the buxom Ms. Cruz take off her top, as the more nubile of his Vincentiments Facebook page YouTube starlets are wont to do when their emotions run high, that might wake us up enough to pay attention.
The director-writer’s and producers’ true sentiments about the Malacañan kasambahay are made clear in the chapter titled “Palamunin” (Worthless Freeloaders). Here, the help are instructed to pack up their belongings and wear street clothes in preparation for the fall of Malacañang to an angry mob. Manang Lucy (Elizabeth Oropesa) praises Marcos for his refusal to respond with violence against the rallyists or the putschists, and exhorts the hired help to die for their masters. There is a chorus of weeping as the kasambahay cannot imagine an existence other than servitude. The stupid servant continues to be a staple in Philippine performing arts.
As the take-charge panganay (eldest daughter), Imee orders her husband Tommy to phone the US Embassy to come and get them (“para sunduin na tayo.”) as though despite the yellow T-shirted, torch-bearing mob from a pre-WWII Frankenstein movie who had wandered inside the Palace, Pamilya Marcos had decided to leave Malacañang of their own volition. Robin Padilla has a cameo as a loyal officer who sees them to safety. That surreal scenario is like the popular Vincentiments “Kung Puede Lang” shorts, where the protagonist acts out his fantasies in his head — mostly anti-social cursing, threatening mayhem, and disrobing. In MIM, the fantasy is that on Feb. 25, 1986, it was Pamilya Marcos’ choice to leave the Palace with a US military escort, while his successor Corazon C. Aquino, her hair mockingly done up with curlers, played mahjong (this time with yellow tiles) with the Carmelites.
Despite MIM’s attempts to portray Marcos Sr. as a kindly, ailing, misunderstood dotard, history shows it was he, not his “genius girl,” negotiating with the US during the Pamilya Marcos’ final days in Malacañang, and shortly before they were hustled out by the US Air Force:
“At 15:00 PST (GMT+8) on Feb. 25, 1986, Marcos talked to United States Senator Paul Laxalt, a close associate of the United States President Ronald Reagan, asking for advice from the White House. Laxalt advised him to “cut and cut cleanly,” to which Marcos expressed his disappointment after a short pause. In the afternoon, Marcos talked to Enrile, asking for safe passage for him and his family, and included his close allies like General Ver. Finally, at 9 p.m., the Marcos family was transported by four Sikorsky HH-3E helicopters to Clark Air Base in Angeles City, about 83 kilometers north of Manila, before boarding US Air Force C-130 planes bound for Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, and finally to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii where Marcos arrived on Feb. 26. When he fled to Hawaii by way of Guam, he also brought with him 22 crates of cash valued at $717 million, 300 crates of assorted jewelry with undetermined value, $4 million worth of unset precious gems contained in Pampers diaper boxes, 65 Seiko and Cartier watches, a 12 by 4 feet box crammed full of real pearls, a three-foot solid gold statue covered in diamonds and other precious stones, $200,000 in gold bullion and nearly $1 million in Philippine pesos, and deposit slips to banks in the US, Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands worth $124 million, which he all amassed during his dictatorship.
“Initially, there was confusion in Washington as to what to do with Marcos and the 90 members of his entourage. Given the special relations Marcos nurtured with Reagan, the former had expectations of favorable treatment. However, Reagan was to distance himself from the Marcoses. The State Department in turn assigned former Deputy Chief of Mission to Manila, Robert G. Rich Jr. to be the point of contact. The entourage were first billeted inside the housing facilities of Hickam Air Force Base. Later on the State Department announced the Marcoses were not immune from legal charges, and within weeks hundreds of cases had been filed against them.”
At maniwala po kayo sa Wikipedia, iyan po ang tunay na pangyayari. Bow. (And you can believe Wikipedia: that’s what really happened. Word.)