‘Boses’: Repairing broken lives, finding dignity

Susan F. Quimpo
Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil's heartbreaker about a battered child finding his voice in music

QUIET FILM. In 'Boses,' an abused child finds redemption in music. Photo from the film's Facebook pageMANILA, Philippines – It is hard to forget the opening scene of the movie “Boses.”

Through a crack in a kitchen cabinet door, a middle-aged man, Marcelo, is seen slouched over his drink, puffing a cigarette.

A woman bangs on his door, “Marcelo! Buksan mo ang pinto! (Marcelo, open the door!)”  Marcelo struggles to rise from his seat; he takes a step, hesitates, then falls, too drunk to even hold his own weight.

The woman continues to pound on his door. When it is opened, his neighbor Choleng, a policeman, and a female social worker barge in. “Mang Marcelo, may report pong may naabusong bata dito. (There is a report of an abused child here.)”

Despite Marcelo’s protestations, the two women quickly search the simple abode. “Onyok! Lumabas ka na! (Onyok! Come out!)” Choleng coaxes the missing boy. Finally, the two women kneel before the crack, they peer in and swing open the cabinet door.

A young boy is crouched inside, quietly weeping, nursing a hand whose palm is blackened and freshly wounded by a cigarette burn.


In its advocacy against child abuse, the film “Boses” tells the story of 7-year-old Onyok (Julian Duque), who is rescued from an abusive father (Ricky Davao) and brought to an idyllic shelter for children.

The boy’s traumatic experiences have left deep scars: cigarette burns perforate his back and he has completely lost his voice.

Onyok’s quiet demeanor and curiosity for music turn an irate neighbor (Coke Bolipata), a violin virtuoso, into the boy’s mentor and protector. It is through the strains of the violin, beautifully played, that the mute boy finds his voice and his self-worth.

“Boses” has been praised and endorsed by the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Department of Education, and the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP).

“It is a wonderful movie… a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the human will,” Tagle was quoted as saying in the “Philippine Daily Inquirer.”

The indie film was first screened at the Cinemalaya Festival in 2008, and subsequently has been on tour, mostly in school campuses, and in local and international film festivals. “Boses” will be reshown in SM Cinemas on Wednesday, July 31.

Because “Boses” is one of the few independent films that have daringly sought commercial release, director Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil is worried. “I can only hope that all the attention that ‘Boses’ has been receiving will actually translate into ticket sales at the box office. That remains to be seen,” she said.

Indeed it would be a pity if one misses the chance to see “Boses.” The movie’s well-written script (by Froilan Medina and Rody Vera), beginning with the dramatic opening scene, grabs then steadily holds the viewer’s attention. Sans the melodrama all too common in local cinema, “Boses” is a quiet film, one that grows on you as you follow a seemingly simple narrative that pokes hard questions at the core of your beliefs.

Is it possible that a parent who sincerely loves his child is capable of abuse and violence against the object of his love? Should a parent, after years of abusive behavior, be given custody of the child at all cost? What constitutes remorse and restitution, and, if exhibited, what measure merits forgiveness? 

These questions, perhaps nothing more than a theoretical dilemma to the viewer, are a constant, living predicament for victims of child abuse.

Watch the trailer of ‘Boses’ here:

In the heart of Quezon City is ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes). Their address is 143 Anonas Extension, Sikatuna Village, Diliman.

ECPAT serves as a shelter for sexually abused children. Though lacking the idyllic rural setting of “Boses,” this shelter is clean and provides the basic needs of its wards or “beneficiaries,” as they are called.

Since 1991, ECPAT has been rescuing children, 18 years of age and younger from sexual abuse and sex tourism.  

“At the moment, we have 14 beneficiaries ranging from 11-18 years old,” says Nova Regalario, ECPAT’s Children and Youth Empowerment Program coordinator.  She says that of the 14 girls, 12 had been molested or raped by their fathers, brothers, grandfathers, and, in one case, a policeman uncle.

Of the remaining two, one was raped by a foreign tourist and the other by a “kabarkada” (peer). Regalario confirms that about two-thirds of the time, it is a male relative who is the sex offender.  


It is not uncommon that the mothers of abused children either do not believe them or downplay the crime perpetrated against them. Often, the mothers themselves discourage their children from seeking help from the police or the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The mother would say, “Nakakahiyang malaman pa nang iba. Tatay mo naman yan, patawarin mo na lang, (It would be shameful if others learned about this. He’s your father, you should just forgive him).” 

Christy was 10 when her mother died. Soon after, her father, a drunk, repeatedly raped her.  “Inaasawa” was the term she used to describe this offense.

She told several members of her family, including her grandmother and an elder sister whom the father had also sexually abused. No one believed or assisted her. Finally, when she was 13, she found an aunt who believed her story and this teacher brought Christy to ECPAT.

At ECPAT, the children are encouraged and supported should they decide to pursue a legal case against those who violated them.

But when the perpetrators are their own fathers, it becomes more difficult. “Tama ba ang magsampa ako ng kaso laban sa Tatay ko? Tama ba na galit ako sa kanya kahit na Tatay ko siya? (Is it right that I am taking my father to court? Is it right that I am angry at him even if he is my father?)

These are questions the children ask their ECPAT case workers.

Vangie’s story

Restoring one’s self-worth is perhaps the biggest challenge that faces abused children. Regalario recalls the case of Vangie, a pretty 15-year-old who stayed at the shelter for 5 years. Her case is recounted as “Vangie’s Tale,” in the ECPAT publication, “Stepping Stones.”

Vangie was raped by her two brothers and was later “pimped” by her brother-in-law. Thereafter, she had fits of rage and exhibited aggressive behavior.

Instead of consoling her daughter, Vangie’s mother brought her to a mental institution where she was bound like an animal and sedated. It was while she was groggy that a male attendant who found her attractive fondled her.

When Vangie was taken to ECPAT, she was uncommunicative and showed violent behavior. One night, she somehow got hold of a pair of scissors which she used to cut her long hair, cutting it close to her scalp. She said she did this because it was a curse to be a girl and to be pretty.

Last summer, during a series of crafts workshops, the children requested that they be taught how to make dolls. What started as a two-hour session on drawing and cutting paper dolls eventually extended to a week and included the creation of felt dolls stuffed with kapok filling.

The ECPAT staff noted that the girls were quite serious about this hobby, making it something of a vocation. The older girls made dolls for the younger ones, sewing the dolls way past their bedtime.

Soon it became apparent to the staff that this activity was perhaps one way the girls were remembering their battered bodies.

It is unlikely that the children of ECPAT will ever watch “Boses” at the cinemas. But perhaps, it is better that way. They need not watch it, for the narrative is already their own, and the scars of violence and abuse they already carry for life. – Rappler.com

Susan F. Quimpo is the co-editor/author of “Subversive Lives : A family memoir of the Marcos years” (Anvil Press, 2012). The book is about the story of the Quimpos, a family of activists, and their experiences under martial law.

‘Boses’ will be shown at SM Cinemas on Wednesday, July 31. For the screening schedule, please check out this link.

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