The TV project had good production values, good actors, a very good director and a very nice script. Although I appeared in a cameo as an imam or Muslim religious person, my main participation was in the Script Committee.
I was invited to join the Committee just before the shooting started. At first, I declined because remuneration offered was not up to par with international standards although above local standards. But the Executive Producer was quite persuasive. It seemed like the idea of hiring of a Muslim script consultant came only as an afterthought. They did not think it was that important. I guess afterwards, everyone agreed that a knowledgeable Muslim consultant was necessary to the project.
When I read the script for Episode 2, I was quite shocked. It looked more like a script to promote hatred and division rather than peace. There are so many cultural nuances that other parties are quite unaware of. With almost 450 years of adversarial relationship, the Muslims and Christians in the Philippines could not be expected to know much about each other except through stereotypes.
There are many films and TV shows that purport to bring peace and understanding between the communities but end up in controversy. The big-budget films like Perlas ng Silangan and Juramentado are cases in point. The presence of a knowledgeable Muslim consultant could make or break a Muslim-Christian Peace Project. The TV series was titled SALAM, which means Peace. The project was so good such that it was shown for years. I won't be surprised if it is still being shown, although it is high time for another project. The kid actors in the show are now adults.
Below is an article I wrote in my magazine column about this rather successful Peace Project.
Titled SALAM (Peace / Kapayapaan), the program focuses on the lives of four children - two Muslims and two Christians – living in conflict-torn Mindanao. The producers of the show hope to impart lessons on Peace that can inspire children and adults to work for peace not only in times of war, but in everyday life. The program is sponsored by USAID and uses the Department of Education’s Peace Education Teaching Exemplars for Elementary Schools as the framework for the structure of the contents and story line. The series will premier on Knowledge Channel in late November and on ABS CBN in Dec. 30.
Ian Victoriano, who has been writing for both the Foundation and the Knowledge Channel for several years now, wrote the script for the 10 episodes. But each script had to undergo rigorous screening from the Script Committee composed of Mariles Gonzales, Production Manager of the Foundation; Cita DC Musni of Knowledge Channel; Claudette Sevilla, the Executive Producer; Nanette Losaria of the Department of Education; Mian Villanueva, a child psychologist; and myself as the Moro consultant. Some of the scripts breezed past the committee but others had to undergo major revisions. For example, I was quite taken aback by the script for episode 2. While it was ostensibly pro-peace, it actually promoted further conflict as stereotypes were strengthened and prejudices upheld. Thanks to the concept of a Script Committee, the script was analyzed and revised accordingly.
While it is horrible for a writer to sit and listen to other people criticize his/her work, the concept of a committee in this case is necessary since the final media product needs not only to entertain but also to inform and even to advocate ideas. But Ian, the scriptwriter, seemed to be comfortable working with a Script committee. He says, “Working with the Peace Project has been very educational for me, as I became aware of the various issues related to peace. I learned that this consists largely of breaking stereotypes and conventional modes of thinking and trying to create hope amid situations of conflict.”
Writing the scripts was quite a learning process for Ian. Translating them into the small screen (TV) was the job of the director. Indie (independent) filmmaker Jon Red is the director for the series. Because the medium is TV, Jon might not be able to express as much artistry as he would want to. But he is optimistic. “It allows me to apply my indie filmmaking attitude to each episode. We do a lot of experimentation. It may not be big-budgeted as the telenovelas and fanasteryes, but it has the biggest theme and we treat it as cinema,” he says.
Jon likes the fact that the show has a “very important and relevant theme” and that it addresses the youth. “The youth is my favored sector of the Pinoy audience,” he adds.
Incidentally, I once wrote a critique of Jon Red’s film Utang ni Tatang. I noted the presence of Rabelaisian concepts in that movie. I showed Jon my paper titled Bakhtinian Carnivalesque in a Pinoy Film, and he seemed to agree with it.
In films, the director is usually the big boss. But in television, the Executive Producer calls the shots. S/he handles the administrative side and may even intervene in the creative aspects. The Executive Producer for the Peace Project series is Claudette Sevilla. “Getting the right people – creative staff like the writer, director, assistant director, consultants and talents – is critical,” she stresses. “Peace is not an easy subject matter to deal with where educational television is concerned,” Claudette admits. “Doing this project is a very big challenge for me as an Executive Producer. It is a little complicated but the good thing is, I feel happy and fulfilled especially when I see a beautiful episode completed and I would imagine the children who will be watching it,” she adds.
Knowledge Channel won a grant from USAID to produce two sets of modules – one about livelihood projects and the other about peace. ABS-CBN Foundation won the bid to do the Peace modules. “These modules were produced with the thought that peace is something that must always start from within; it is not a lofty or grandiose idea that must take decades or billions of pesos to work. If we are able to educate or imbibe the value of peace to our children now, the outward or nationwide peace should not be such a far-away dream in the future,” says Channel operations head Cita dela Cruz-Musni.
PEACE IN THE WORLD
Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men/Women. That is the spirit of the holidays. Unfortunately, it is not the spirit of the world today. Bush’s “War on Terror” has a direct effect in the Philippines as Ms. Arroyo subscribes to the Bush doctrine. The militarization of Mindanao and other parts of the country continue. The peace talks with the MILF have stalled and MNLF leader Nur Misuari remains under government detention. The controversies on the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and the Papal remark merely highlight the tension now gripping the Muslim and Christian worlds. There is so much misunderstanding and misconception. And nowhere is it more evident than in the Philippines.
The USAID-funded Peace TV series of Knowledge Channel / ABS-CBN Foundation could go a long way in bridging the wide communication gap between the Muslims and Christians in the Philippines. Three hundred and fifty years of Moro-Spanish wars and 30 or so years of Moro-American conflict plus the MNLF / MILF – GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) wars since the 1970s have taken their toll on the collective minds of the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands.
However, the producers did not think that the TV series should dwell on the Moro conflict. They were really more concerned about values that encourage peace in any situation. Thus, Mindanao became simply a backdrop for the show. One reason for this is that the series will be shown nationwide and not just in Mindanao. But isn’t the Mindanao problem a national issue?
MEDIA’S ROLE and THE MINDANAO PROBLEM
Media’s role in peace-building cannot be over-emphasized. Media products are simply so prevalent in today’s society. In fact, media create social reality. Practically all the media products about the Moros during the Spanish time, the American era and even up to today, including textbooks, have been critical of the Moros. Rarely do we find books, films or TV programs that portray a true understanding of the Moro culture, history and general way of life. Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Bagong Buwan is the only film I know that took the Moro’s point of view seriously regarding the Mindanao problem.
In Philippine media, the only Moros that get attention are the Abu Sayyaf and everyone else tagged as criminals, bandits, bombers, etc. The centuries-old animosity between the Muslims and Christians in the Philippines cannot be solved simply by signing peace agreements with armed groups. The Tripoli Agreement and the Jakarta Peace Accord between the Philippine government and the MNLF failed even if they were international pacts signed under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Lasting peace can only be achieved if it involves everyone – the leaders and the people, the young and the old, the fighters and the intellectuals, the conservatives and the radicals. Media must constructively inform, educate, and advocate ideas that would be conducive to lasting peace.
PEACE TV MINI SERIES
The Peace TV mini series of Knowledge Channel / ABS CBN Foundation is a good way to start, i.e., by educating the children. Hopefully, more media products, especially TV and film, will be made that will dig deep into the issues of the Mindanao Problem which will make people understand the enormity of the problem. Only a peaceful Mindanao can bring real progress to Manila and the whole Philippines. (END)
Published in Mr. & Ms. magazine Dec ‘06 - Jan ‘07