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VIRAL: Clip of Lino Brocka talking about the Manila Film Center tragedy

Gelo Gonzales

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VIRAL: Clip of Lino Brocka talking about the Manila Film Center tragedy

Screenshot of Facebook post

(1st UPDATE) The clip shows video footage of the wreckage and the actual victims of the tragedy

MANILA, Philippines – A clip from a 1987 documentary on director and National Artist Lino Brocka talking about the Manila Film Center tragedy in 1981 was posted on Facebook on Monday, May 16. Since then, the clip has gone on to reach 2,200 shares.

Brocka explains familiar details surrounding the tragedy. The Manila International Film Festival was looming over the building’s construction, leading to a rush job that eventually led to disaster. This was made only more horrific with the choice to continue the construction, in spite of an accident where an undetermined number of workers reportedly died and got buried in the cement that fateful day on November 17, 1981. 

(Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story mentioned that 169 construction workers died and got buried in the construction site, based on a veteran journalist’s newspaper column. We have since removed any reference to it. Historians say the number of those who died is disputed to this day, as there have been no incident reports or testimonies that could establish a definitive count.)

Exactly a day and two months after the tragedy on January 18, 1982, the film festival for which the building was rushed would commence. 

“They were rushing this precisely because there was a timetable when the Manila International Film Festival was going to open. And she [Imelda Marcos] was taking pride, the ex-First Lady, was taking pride in the fact that they could finish this building in 70 days. And so the workers were working here day and night for about 70 days. A week before the opening, the third floor collapsed. They were rushing it, the cement was still not hardened, and it collapsed.” 

More shocking are the video clips of the workers buried in the rubble, a foot jutting out, and lifeless bodies in what looked like a massive waterfall of wood and scaffolding starting at the 0:30 mark of the clip – images that perhaps not a lot of Filipinos are familiar with today because as Brocka described there would be a news blackout soon after the incident. For some, the short clip is a rare, visual glimpse at what had actually happened there that day.

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“It was a choice between going through with the building and burying those people, or stopping the construction, in which case, [the building] would not have been ready for the festival there. So she [Imelda] made a very controversial decision: go ahead and bury them. Right away there was a news blackout but some pictures came out,” Brocka said. 

On whether he went to the film festival: “No, never, I did not come and see the films here. It was very clear that the film center was definitely one of the smokescreens of the administration to cover up and neutralize its human rights violations and excesses of repression and oppression. It was used as a political instrument.” 

The clip comes from the 1987 documentary Signed: Lino Brocka by American documentary maker Christian Blackwood, which won the 1988 Peace Film Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. – 

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.