Paulo Alexis Catolos x Jomar Galutera, Fragments (a study) 001, 1920 px x 1080 px
Paulo Alexis Catolos x Jomar Galutera, Fragments (a study) 002, 1920 px x 1080 px
Paulo Alexis Catolos x Jomar Galutera, Fragments (a study) 003, 1920 px x 1080 px,
Fragments (A Study)
This work recovers a distant memory. None of us–Jomar, Paulo, and I– were born when it happened.
First lady Imelda Marcos envisioned Metro Manila as the Cannes of the East, host of a spectacular festival and cultural display: the Manila International Film Festival (MIFF). She decided that the MIFF could only be inaugurated at a dedicated site. Hence, the construction of Manila Film Center. For Imelda, who was the wife of the most powerful man in the land, the Manila Film Center, which later proved to have cost the Philippine government around $25 million in its construction, could be accomplished even if it was simply a last-minute decision, an afterthought, a whim.
The air must have been sweaty, tense, and filled with bustling noise at the construction site of the Manila Film Center. With only two short months prior to the building’s intended inauguration, finishing the project seemed like an impossible feat. Around 4,000 laborers have been toiling round-the-clock, their hands piecing together the monumental structure. Concrete, glass, and steel—no part of the building was left untouched by labor.In November 17, 1981, at around 3AM, in the middle of this construction frenzy, the scaffoldings that propped the roof collapsed, drowning some laborers in fresh concrete. Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) president Baltazar Endriga and architect of Manila Film Center Froilan Hong reports that only seven men died from the collapse, and that each of them were given proper burial.
In one of the episodes of the popular TV series Magandang Gabi…Bayan (Halloween special), the Manila Film Center tragedy links to various unexplainable phenomena experienced by people working in the building premises. One of the workers heard moans of pain coming from deserted hallways. Another worker was almost hit in the head by a lightbulb that fell off of the ceiling where no bulb receptacles were present. Another worker ran away from the restroom where toilet bowls were flushing all by themselves. Midway through the episode, the host asks his viewers: could these stories simply be a product of an overactive imagination?
We must frame architecture through the scaffolding of history. Architectural historian Gerard Lico also deploys the term “Edifice Complex”: “an obsession and compulsion to build edifices as a hallmark of greatness,” a symptom of the Marcosian madness. For instance, the building’s architectural form derives inspiration from the Parthenon, built in 5th century BC by the Greeks for their goddess Athena. And like the Parthenon, the Manila Film Center is undeniably massive. To its onlookers, it impresses a sense of the monumental: a timeless temple for Filipino culture and history.
Jomar records the deteriorating façade of the Manila Film Center. At this point in time, the building has been abandoned completely for almost a decade. He finds water stains and cracks running along the length of concrete columns, rusted steel bars, and shattered glass windows. When monuments decay, does our memory of the people they commemorate or the ideas they symbolize slowly fade with them?
In an essay The Mysterious Curse of the Manila Film Center published by Esquire Magazine, author Nicae de Guzman interviews Nena Benigno, the former public relations officer for The Experimental Cinema of the Philippines and the Manila International Film Festival. Benigno saw the construction incident in the Manila Film Center with her own eyes. She says that no media personnel were allowed entry to the scene, and that rescuers, on the other hand, were allowed access nine hours after the incident. She estimates at least 168 people having drowned and died in the hardened cement.
How hard is it to carry around this heavy memory in every waking moment of our lives?
In The Howie Severino Podcast, GMA News and Public Affairs journalist Howie Severino interviews the architectural historian Gerard Lico. Lico regrettably says that the construction of the Manila Film Center, together with the erection of similar monumental structures (Cultural Center of the Philippines, San Juanico Bridge, and Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, etc) during the Marcos regime ushered in a “Golden Age.” Does the fading of memories equate to forgetting? Or perhaps simply a faulty, lopsided remembering? And who benefits from all this?
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the deposed dictator, took the presidential office at the Malacañang Palace as the 17th president of the Philippine Republic in the last week of May 2022. Some Filipinos look forward to this present period with nostalgic hope, a possible return to a “golden age.” Others call this period an “existential moment for democracy.” Both views fall under the shadow of a definitive past, but recalled quite differently.
Paulo found a channel on Youtube labeled “Imelda Marcos”, which, as of this writing, has almost twelve thousand subscribers. Since there are no details written about the channel, we cannot make sure if it is the former first lady herself who populates the channel’s rich video feed. One of the videos uploaded into the channel is titled “Imelda Marcos Manila International Film Festival.” Since its release on this platform eight years ago, the video has been viewed over twenty thousand times and has raked more than 120 comments. Among the comments, one viewer follows a thread of conversation. The user asked about the construction incident. This comment was posted a year ago. A fellow viewer responds. The fellow viewer seems to have picked up accusations elsewhere, perhaps in another social media platform, that the accident was an act of sabotage. After narrating details of the incident, the fellow viewer poses a question about the morality of how the incident was handled: “Whether it was sabotage or not, was it right to proceed with the construction of the Manila Film Center and to keep up with Imelda’s deadline while the workers remained buried in concrete?” .The story of the Manila Film Center continues to live on the hyperconnected network of data architecture: the internet. Paulo clipped a portion of this video and included it in this memory project.
I received an automated e-mail message: “Folder shared with you: ‘film center final’. I click the “OPEN'' button at the end of the email and take a peek at the folder. It contains three video pieces, all made by the collaborators Paulo and Jomar. A total of 1.1GB of video files now sit on the cloud, our repository of shared memory. I watch all the videos. I rewatched the file named “untitled film center 1” at least three times, fascinated with the deterioration of the footage, wormy green and violet specs wiggling in my laptop screen. In having them rewatched, do I wear these worms out? With every press of the play button, do little details change? Are there any shifts in the shade of pixels?
How can I remember an experience I never lived? Can these videos act as my surrogate memories?. Admittedly, I barely understand how technology works.
Jeckree Mission is a writer based in Manila. He is studying for his Master’s Degree in Art History at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. He was shortlisted for the Ateneo Art Awards – Purita Kalaw Ledesma Prize in Art Criticism in 2019, and was a fellow to the Curatorial Development Program 2020 initiated by Philippine Contemporary Art Network, The Japan Foundation, Manila and Vargas Museum.