Thursday, December 28, 2023



A brewing turf war for the control of the prosperous Antipolo parish pits Spain-born friars against their local born secular counterparts. Leading the charge for the Filipino clergy is Pedro Pelaez (Piolo Pascual), the liberal diocesan administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila. When he is fatally buried under the rubble in the wake of the great earthquake of Manila in 1863, his advocacy is continued by his apprentice Jose Burgos (Cedrick Juan), who instigates reforms by instilling nationalist values in his students’ minds, among them Paciano Rizal Mercado (Elijah Canlas) and Felipe Buencamino (Tommy Alejandrino). Aided by the elder Mariano Gomez (Dante Rivero), Burgos becomes the primary target of the friars. As the tides turn brought upon by the arrival of a conservative governor general, Gomez, Burgos, and gambler Jacinto Zamora (Enchong Dee) are falsely charged with mutiny and end up condemned to death via garrote. Witnessed by a young Jose Rizal, their death serves as the inspiration for his novel El Filibusterismo, dedicated to three martyr priests dubbed as GomBurZa.

But who are Filipinos, really? The first ones to be referred to as such were Spaniards and creoles discriminated against by their own kind who were residing in Europe, simply because they were born on the island colony. We would’ve been just INDIOS without rights in our own land had we been born back then. Perhaps we should take that into consideration the next time we throw a tantrum because some half Filipina half something else was sent to represent “us” at Miss Universe. After all, before “we” became oh so possessive of the term FILIPINO, “they” were the first ones to actually own it even before we did. Ain’t history fun?

My only problem with GomBurZa is how it only ever seems to revolve around Bur(gos). If they were a pop act they might as well be Destiny’s Child, because Gom(ez) and Za(mora) definitely got Beyonce’d by Bur(gos) out of the spotlight. While it is understandable that Gom(ez)’s backstory would be inaccessible in the past since he is way older and exploring that would mean digressing from the current timeframe, Za(mora) who is just as old as Bur(gos) does not really contribute anything significant to the plot other than playing cards and always looking miserable and lethargic like all of us on a Monday morning.

Or maybe that’s just all that they can squeeze out of the other two priests’ storyline that is relevant to that time period? This is the problem when history classes in school curriculums are all about memorizing random names and dates so you can pass an exam. Such historical tidbits are useful if you are joining a quiz show, but do not help much in getting to know, and urging students to get to know, who these heroes really were. In this regard, films of this genre accomplish something by raising awareness and humanizing them. Should history refreshers be of particular interest to you, it can always come later by purchasing the relevant history books.

Given the uneven distribution of screen time and relevance in the main story, neither Rivero nor Dee are given even the slightest chance to shine. Instead, they both just serve as side dishes to the main course, served with panache by Juan and peppered with his impressive trilingual dialogues. While his Best Actor win could always be debated, there is no doubt that he did this homework and aced his role. His win is not just a big win for fans of history films, but also for theater actors trying to make it to the big screen. Give the guy more projects!

It gets even weirder when it’s not just Bur(gos) who ends up eclipsing Gom(ez) and Za(mora) but also Pascual’s Pedro Pelaez and Canlas’ Paciano Rizal Mercado as far as acting in terms of the actors and plot relevance in terms of the characters are concerned. Pascual inadvertently unleashes some scene stealing shenanigans here and both the actor as well as the way his character has been written can be thanked for commanding such attention with his mere presence alone, in spite of his limited screen time.

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