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Eye-opening Filipino films to inspire you to take action



Activism has been given a negative connotation in the Philippines. Some Filipinos label activism as “anti-government propaganda” while activists are being branded as destabilizers or even terrorists who exist to nitpick and create trouble for the country. In most cases activists are depicted as the youth rallying with unreserved bombast critical of social injustices, waving their placards while spewing vitriol toward a government that is never good enough—the hoary battle cry “Makibaka! Huwag matakot! (Join the struggle! Do not be afraid!)” echoes in the streets and throughout history.

By definition, activism is the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving environmental, political, or other goals, through demonstrations, protests, or other methods. People voice out their concern and eventually act upon it because they acknowledge that there is something wrong and that action must be taken. This is regardless of who they are up against, whether colonizers or their own government.

Contrary to what some may believe, activism has been proven to work almost all the time, bringing about positive change. Take José Rizal’s novels Noli Me Tángere and El Filibusterismo for example. The national hero used writing as a means to expose the ills of Philippine society during his time. Rizal and his fellow ilustrados Marcelo H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez-Jaena, and Mariano Ponce were some of the earliest activists who fought for social and political reforms and demanded, if not Filipino rights, at least equality between the people of the Philippines and its then mother country, Spain. Another instance of successful activism is the four-day EDSA protest, a manifestation of the discontent and furies that ended Marcos’ totalitarian rule.

Today, there are even more types of activism such as computer hacking or “hacktivism” used by the international activist movement Anonymous that go against abusive governments, agencies, and institutions. There is also activism through art called “artivism,” and one of the most common medium is film. Cinema extends way beyond a mere form of entertainment. It has the power to change hearts and minds, even society itself. Here is a sampling of local films that tackle social change, acts of exploitation and oppression, states of inequality, corruption, foreign domination, and other social ills that rouse public anger.


Sister Stella L. (1984) 

Director: Mike De Leon

A nun by the name of Sister Stella Legaspi (Vilma Santos) gets involved in an ongoing labor strike. She starts out non-politicized, but learns about the plight of the working man and, inevitably, the government’s neglect of the poor masses.


ML (2018)

Director: Benedict Mique Jr.

College student Carlo (Tony Labrusca) interviews retired Colonel Dela Cruz (Eddie Garcia) about the dark days of the Marcos regime. Carlo, with his girlfriend Pat (Lianne Valentino) and bestfriend Jace (Henz Villaraiz), relive the horrors of Martial law as they get tortured by the psychopathic retired soldier.


Orapronobis / Fight For Us (1989)

Director: Lino Brocka

After the 1986 Edsa Revolution, Jimmy Cordero (Philip Salvador), an ex-priest-turned-revolutionary during the Marcos dictatorship, is released along with other political detainees from prison, only to get involved with the fictional vigilante group Orapronobis that, in connivance with the Philippine army, terrorizes a remote town called Santa Filomena. The Jose F. Lacaba-written film, which also starred Dina Bonnevie, Gina Alajar, and Bembol Roco, won critical acclaim following its premiere at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. On account of its subversive message tackling what Brocka described as “the human rights violations under the Aquino administration,” it was banned in the Philippines in its initial release by then President Corazon Aquino.  


Call Her Ganda (2018)

Director: PJ Raval

Filipina transgender woman and alleged sex worker, Jennifer Laude, was brutally murdered by US marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, three women intimately invested in the case—activist attorney Virgie Suarez, transgender journalist Meredith Talusan, and Jennifer’s mother Julita Nanay—galvanize a political uprising, pursuing justice and taking on hardened histories of US imperialism.


Heneral Luna (2015)

Directed: Jerrold Tarog

The story of General Antonio Luna’s (John Arcilla) leadership of the Philippine Revolutionary Army during the Philippine–American War. The film questions loyalty to kith and kin and challenges the viewer to put country first. 


Muro-Ami/Reef Hunters (1999)

Director: Marilou Diaz-Abaya

Fredo (Ceasar Montano), a ruthless captain of 150 muroami divers, employs illegal fishing practices such as pounding and crushing corals to scare fish, and driving them toward nets. He also harasses his divers, who are mostly children, by overworking them. The children have to make do under subhuman conditions in the muroami boat, The Aurora


Citizen Jake (2018)

Director: Mike de Leon

Jake Herrera (Atom Araullo), a journalist and estranged son of a powerful Philippine senator, wants to prove he is not like his father. Circumstances force him to try to solve the brutal murder of a young, female student from the university he teaches at in Baguio. The investigation brings him on a path in which he encounters corruption and finally faces his own demons.


Liway (2018)

Director: Kip Oebanda

Based on a true story and set in the waning days of the Marcos dictatorship, it tells the story of Dakip (Kenken Nuyad), a boy living in a prison camp housing both criminals and members of the New People’s Army, and his mother anti-Marcos dissident Cecilia Flores-Oebanda (Glaiza de Castro) also known as Liway.


Respeto (2017)

Director: Treb Monteras II

Hendrix (Raymond Abracosa), a wannabe rapper trying to make a name for himself through the underground rap battle, aspires to make it big in hopes of getting out of the life he was born into. Soon, he meets Fortunato Reyes (Dido de la Paz), known as “Dok,’ an old poet and Martial Law victim who ends up helping Hendrix straighten up his life.


Buybust (2018)

Director: Erik Matti

Rookie police officer Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis) joins a new anti-narcotic elite squad and goes to the slums of Barangay Gracia ni Maria in Tondo, Manila, for a “buy-bust” operation to capture a drug lord named Chen (Arjo Atayde).

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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