Filipino movies

#NeverAgain: Movies, documentaries on Martial Law, human rights abuses

#NeverAgain: Movies, documentaries on Martial Law, human rights abuses

MARTIAL LAW. Eddie Garcia and Tony Labrusca star in the film 'ML.'

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Learn about Martial Law and its aftermath through these documentaries and movies

Each year on September 21, the Philippines remembers one of the darkest chapters in history. On September 23, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos formally announced via national television that the country was under Martial Law. Proclamation 1081, which placed the country under martial rule, was signed on September 21. (READ: Martial Law, the dark chapter in Philippine history)

From then and now, Philippine cinema has strived to tackle political and social issues, whether it be through documentaries or works of fiction. To mark today – and help forever remember the atrocities of those dark years, here’s a list of Filipino documentary and narrative films that touch on topics like Martial Law, the Duterte administration’s “war on drugs,” press freedom, and democracy in the Philippines:

A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution

The 1988 film follows the revolution that was sparked during the 14 years of Martial Law in the Philippines. It follows the state of the Philippines after the Marcoses’ exile and the rise of democracy during Cory Aquino’s term. 

Canadian director Nettie Wild explores three diverging political wings in the Philippines: the political left, the armed revolution, and the opposition of both – the armed reactionary right. 

A Rustling of Leaves: Inside the Philippine Revolution premiered for the first time in the Philippines via Daang Dokyu in 2020. As of posting, the documentary has not streamed elsewhere in the Philippines yet.

The Kingmaker

Director Lauren Greenfield focuses on the infamous Marcos family in the documentary The Kingmaker. One of the main talking heads of the documentary is Imelda Marcos, late late dictator’s wife. Greenfield also speaks to victims of Martial Law – Pete Lacaba, May Rodriguez, and Etta Rosales. 

The film tracks the start of Marcos’ regime, Martial Law, the EDSA revolution, the exile of the Marcoses, and their return to the country. It also showcases the impact of historical revisionism in the country, helping boost their return to power. 

Greenfield also shows how human rights abuses in the country happened not only under Ferdinand Marcos but also during President Rodrigo Duterte’s rule.

The Kingmaker is available via scheduled streaming from September 21 to October 10 at the Active Vista International Human Rights Festival. It may also be streamed for free via iWantTFC – all you need to do is sign up for a free account.

Dekada ’70

Based on Lualhati Bautista’s novel of the same name, the 2002 movie directed by Chito S. Roño follows the Bartolome family during the 1970s and Martial Law. 

The story is centered on Amanda (Vilma Santos), who is married to Julian (Christopher De Leon). They have 5 sons – activist Jules (Piolo Pascual), writer Emmanuel (Marvin Agustin), US Navy member Isagani (Carlos Agassi), Martial Law victim Jason (Danilo Barrios), and the youngest, Benjamin (John Wayne Sace). 

Dekada ‘70 is on iWantTFC.

Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon

Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What is Before) is a five-and-a-half-hour movie directed by Lav Diaz. 

The black-and-white film recounts the strange events that happened in an isolated village in the Philippines in 1972, right at the time President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law.

Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon received the Golden Leopard prize at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland in August 2014.

Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon can be streamed for free the FDCP channel until September 21.


The 2017 film is about an aspiring rapper Hendrix (Abra), whose life is intertwined with Martial Law poet Doc (Dido de la Paz). 

Directed by Treb Monteras II, Respeto is a blend of rap music, poetry, and drama. Overall, it tackles the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under President Duterte’s administration. 

Respeto won several awards, including best film, in the 2017 Independent Film Festival and the 2018 Cyprus Film Days International Festival. 

Respeto can be streamed for free from September 21 to October 10 via the Active Vista International Human Rights Festival.


ML is about college students Carlo (Tony Labrusca), Pat (Lianne Valentin), and Jace (Henz Villaraiz) who interviews a former soldier, “Colonel” (Eddie Garcia) for a history class on Martial Law. It is soon revealed that Colonel is evil and the students are set to be his next victim.

The film was directed by Benedict Mique. A thriller with enough brutal and gory scenes, ML shows the narrative between the abused and the abuser; the prey and the brute. It shows the horror of Martial Law from the eyes of a victim.

ML is available via from September 21 to October 10 in the Active Vista International Human Rights Festival.


Aswang documents the Philippines’ under President Rodrigo Duterte. The documentary reveals the gruesome reality on the streets of Metro Manila, where killings, under the guise of the “war on drugs,” poses a threat as night time comes. 

Directed by Alyx Ayn Carumpac, Aswang bagged the International Film Critics’ FIPRESCI award in Amsterdam in 2019.

Aswang is available via streaming from September 21 to October 10 through the Active Vista International Human Rights Festival.

A Thousand Cuts

Directed by Ramona Diaz, A Thousand Cuts is a documentary film that centers on the struggle of press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Though interviews with Maria Ressa and Rappler reporters, A Thousand Cuts director Diaz highlights moves by the current administration to suppress media and spread disinformation. The film also features interviews with entertainer-turned-government-official Mocha Uson and now-Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Duterte’s former police chief who led the “war on drugs.” 

The documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2020 and has garnered awards from several film festivals. It has streamed for free several times in the Philippines in the past.  


Imelda is another of Diaz’s work. The 2003 documentary saw Diaz get unprecedented access to the late dictator’s wife, as well as his children – Imee and namesake Ferdinand Jr. – who would later be elected senators of the Philippines.

The film features both interviews with the Marcoses, third party interviews, and archival footage, tracing Imelda’s life – from her marriage to then Congressman Marcos, the rise of her husband, and her continued denial of the atrocities during her husband’s regime.

It’s garnered awards and recognition in different festivals around the world and can be streamed for free via CCP’s Vimeo. – Patrick Miguel/

Patrick Miguel is a Rappler intern.